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City eyes Olympic museum for oval

The largest collection of Olympic memorabilia can be found in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. - Cesar Pics photo via Flickr
The largest collection of Olympic memorabilia can be found in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
— image credit: Cesar Pics photo via Flickr

The Richmond Olympic Oval Corporation is proposing to build an Olympic museum inside the oval at an estimated cost of $6 million, The Richmond Review has learned.

A delegation of oval and city officials recently pitched the idea to International Olympic Committee brass in Lausanne, Switzerland and received a “very positive” reception, a city spokesperson said.

Dubbed “The Richmond Olympic Experience at the Richmond Olympic Oval,” it would become the first museum in the Americas to join the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Museum Network, which centres around the IOC’s Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

It could open as soon as next year.

“This is big for Richmond. It’s a big opportunity; it’s a bold opportunity,” said spokesperson Ted Townsend.

The project builds on an existing plan to install a $575,000 permanent exhibition at the oval that tells Richmond’s Olympic story.

“We realized we had an opportunity to expand the project and make it into a true tourism destination and something the community could really take pride in,” said Townsend.

No new city money would go into the bigger project, he said. Instead, sponsors will finance it by contributing cash and in-kind donations. The oval corporation board has given the project preliminary approval, but city council will have the final vote due to the project’s size, said Townsend.

Besides being an attraction for tourists and local residents, it would serve as an educational resource and pay tribute to Richmond’s sports history. Early plans call for displays, activities, theatre and museum elements scattered throughout the building and oval plaza.

Memorabilia from the IOC and Richmond’s participation in the 2010 Games would comprise the collection.

Calgary currently claims to hold the largest collection of Olympic memorabilia in Canada at the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum inside Canada Olympic Park, but the small facility isn’t an official IOC member museum.

The largest Games collection in the world is held by the IOC at its Olympic Museum in Lausanne, an attraction that draws as many as 210,000 visitors each year. Its permanent exhibition tells the story of the late Baron de Coubertin who founded the modern Games, and is filled with Olympic torches and athletic equipment worn by medallists.

That museum is preparing for a major renovation, which will close its doors for 20 months beginning early next year, opening up the possibility for Richmond to borrow Olympic artifacts.

Richmond City Hall’s last attempt at building a museum came in 2009, when staff made a push for a $45-million destination museum to be modelled after Victoria’s Royal B.C. Museum. A permanent display dedicated to the 2010 Winter Games was envisioned as part of the facility. It came with a promise of funding from senior governments, but the idea fizzled with city council.

Staff invested months on the concept, spent thousands on research trips and $110,000 more on consulting fees before civic politicians had a change of heart, citing a challenging economy, other civic priorities and competition from other museums for tourism dollars.

Costs for the latest proposal have yet to be tallied, and a contract has yet to be awarded to a design firm. But a city spokesperson said the Olympic museum isn’t related to the 2009 concept to replace the Richmond Museum, which remains on the priority list of capital projects at city hall.

Townsend also emphasized Richmond’s drive for an Olympic museum won’t impact that list because the project—proposed for space within the Richmond Olympic Oval’s walls—doesn’t require more city cash.

He also noted Richmond’s “extremely good reputation within the Olympic family,” an image enhanced during the Games and recognized by IOC president Jacques Rogge in opening and closing speeches for the 2010 Winter Games.

Said Townsend: “The Olympics has come to see Richmond as a model for venue cities. Based on that reputation and being a good partner during the Games, that’s providing us with these opportunities.”

Other attempts have been made in recent years to create tourist-dependent museums in Metro Vancouver. In 2004, Danny Guillaume opened Storyeum, a $22.5-million attraction built on city-owned property in Gastown. It closed two years later after attracting just 200,000 visitors each year, failing to realize its goal of one million annual visits.

More recently, the City of North Vancouver attempted to build what it called the National Maritime Centre, but officials scrapped the plan last year after it couldn’t secure enough provincial government financing.

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