City officials once thought the hall was a key factor in reviving the city. When the NFF announced in 1992 that it would move the hall to South Bend, then-Mayor Joseph Kernan, who later became governor, said the city could "bring 200,000 people a year to this facility in our sleep." But the hall drew about 115,000 people the first year it opened and about 60,000 annually after that.
Rick Walls, who served as executive director of the College Football Hall of Fame from 2005-07, said the hall was a victim of expectations that were too high. Predictions that people driving along the Indiana Toll Road would stop at the hall never materialized, he said.
"It just shows you the business is very difficult, no matter what your product is," said Walls, who is now executive director of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum. "The hall of fame is a great facility, there's no doubt about it. It's a fantastic building and the exhibits and the archives are all top notch. It's just hard to do."
Walls, who also serves as president of the International Sports Heritage Association, said most sports halls of fames and museums are getting by.
"They're fighting and the challenges are there like with any museum. The economy for most seems to have gotten a little better this past year," he said.
Though it didn't happen in South Bend, city officials are eager to move forward with the next chapter in the building's history. City leaders say they hope someone will make an offer on the building by the end of March.
"We're waiting to see what proposals come in," Ford said.
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