SARATOGA SPRINGS — The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is gearing up to undergo a $20 million transformation to make it more interactive.
The project includes the installation of video screens including a 360-degree screen and replacing all of the Hall of Fame plaques with 8-foot tall screens that guests can touch to find out information about the inductee and view racing footage.
"This is the museum's biggest project ever," said President John Hendrickson. "Our goal is to be best hall of fame in the country, and this will take us to that level."
Hendrickson said he and the museum's Redesign Committee went to the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville in October to meet with Donna Lawrence, who designed that museum's digital components.
"Museums are becoming more interactive, and we want to deliver content to people the way that they're discovering it," he said. "If we want to thrive in this current environment, we have to be fun, educational and entertaining."
In December, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame unveiled Foal Patrol, a series of live web cameras giving users real-time streams of several in-foal mares during their pregnancy.
Hendrickson said Foal Patrol has received more than 1 million views from people in 40 countries since its installation.
"It helped us reach a whole different audience," he said. "It's important to build a new fan base."
Brien Bouyea, Hall of Fame communications director, said the museum staff and Board of Directors have been discussing what to do with the Hall of Fame space over the past several years.
"We induct several new members each year, and we're starting to run out of space for the plaques," he said. "We knew we'd either have to expand or reimagine the space."
The latest induction day was held on Aug. 3 at Fasig Tipton.
Bouyea said while horses must be retired for five years before they're eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, jockeys and trainers can still be active, so visitors don't often know about their accomplishments after they're inducted.
"This will allow us to constantly update the digital plaques with the latest information," he said. "We want the plaques to come to life and engage people."
According to Bouyea, admissions revenue at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is up 12 percent this year from 2017.
"Museums are looking to interact and engage with their audiences, and we felt technology was the way to go to bring in younger audiences," he said.
The museum has undergone three to four major projects over the past 30 years, including an $18 million expansion in 2000.
"This will be our biggest project to date," Bouyea said.
The museum is in the midst of fundraising for the project, for which Hendrickson and his wife, Saratoga Springs socialite Marylou Whitney, have pledged $1 million.
Hendrickson said the plan is to have the interactive project completed by the summer of 2020.
Bouyea said staff is working on the content, videos and photographs for the plaques and video screens.
"We have a lot of the information through our website, so a lot of it is just a matter of converting it," he said. "We also have to clear video and photo rights.
"It'll take some time to put it together."
Hendrickson said he's excited about transforming the Hall of Fame.
"This will make it a living, breathing institution," he said. "This is a game changer."