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Volume 24, Number 7 — July 2017

Food City Gives Boost To BCMA's Cultural Heritage Center Project

From left, Tom Hembree with Food CIty presents more than $26,000 in proceeds from Food City Race Night to Bill Hartley, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. (Photo by Andre Teague, Bristol Herald Courier)
From left, Tom Hembree with Food CIty presents more than $26,000 in proceeds from Food City Race Night to Bill Hartley, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. (Photo by Andre Teague, Bristol Herald Courier)

By DAVID McGEE | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | November 10, 2008

*** This story was published Nov. 7, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va. ? Work won't begin anytime soon, but the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance took another step Thursday toward establishing a downtown cultural heritage center.

Food City presented a check for more than $26,000 to the nonprofit agency, the proceeds from the annual downtown Food City Family Race Night event.

Earlier this year, the alliance began trying to raise about $3.5 million to jump start the $12 million project.

"We appreciate the generosity, not just to us but to downtown," Alliance Executive Director Bill Hartley said. "This is a lot of money to reinvest back into downtown Bristol."

The proposed center would provide a state-of-the-art showcase for the region's musical heritage inside a vacant, 24,000-square-foot Cumberland Street building.

A 2005 study by the University of Virginia's Weldon-Cooper Center anticipates the center would attract 75,000 visitors a year and provide a $43.2 million impact on the region's economy in its first five years.

This year's annual NASCAR fan festival featured the largest attendance in event history and their second-largest contribution, said Tom Hembree, Food City senior vice president of marketing.

"This was the right thing to do for the community," Hembree said. "In fact, we may do this [donate to the alliance] again next year. This project will really help Bristol. There won't be anything else like it."

This type of contribution reflects positive community support for a project, alliance fundraising Chairman Kevin Triplett said.

"When we talk to people away from here about giving, one of the first things they want to know is how is the local community supporting it. This is a very nice contribution that shows we have that community support," Triplett said.

Despite national economic upheaval, efforts to raise money continue unabated and are "still on track," Triplett said.

"Obviously there are some challenges, but our conversations with people show they're excited about this project," Triplett said. "Those people are trying to find a way to help us."

During its 21-year run, Food City has donated about $500,000 in Race Night proceeds to a variety of regional agencies and charitable causes.

An estimated 60,000 attended the day-long 2008 event, which ran out of tickets for the first time ever, event coordinator Lisa Johnson said.

It featured a tribute to former driver Ernie Irvan, autograph sessions with drivers and racing celebrities, concerts and other attractions.