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Olympic museum to open in 2013

Richmond's chief of staff said Monday a new Olympic museum will draw tourists and won't put the city at financial risk despite its multimillion dollar price tag.

"As a business opportunity, I see this as one of the best business opportunities we've ever had," said George Duncan. "This is a real plus for Richmond, and I'll stand behind the business case (for the museum) anytime ahead of a lot of things that we do."

Richmond Olympic Oval Corporation officials won city council's endorsement this week for the $6-million-plus Richmond Olympic Experience Project—an Olympic museum that will be housed inside the oval and build on a long-planned exhibition of Richmond's Olympic story.

Officials hope to open the facility by next fall.

As first reported by The Richmond Review, a delegation of oval and city officials successfully pitched the idea over one year ago to International Olympic Committee brass in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Brass from the oval corporation—an arm's length company owned by the City of Richmond—are banking on tourists to offset operating costs, which could total $300,000 annually, with admission fees averaging $15.

Tourists will already pay $2.5 million in capital costs through hotel tax collected by Tourism Richmond. Another $2 million is being drawn from oval and city accounts, along with up to $1.5 million from an unnamed sponsor. Project officials have also applied to the federal government for an additional $1 million grant toward construction costs.

Project officials argue the museum will give tourists another reason to base their stay in Richmond—and offer more incentive to visit the oval.

But one councillor voted against the project Monday. Coun. Chak Au questioned its ability to draw tourists and wondered why the Richmond museum would be the first in North America to join the IOC's Olympic Museum Network.

"We might flatter ourselves to claim (to have) the first Olympic museum in North America. But my question is, if this is such a good thing, why in so long a time nobody wants to have an Olympic museum in North America? That makes me become suspicious."

But Duncan, chief administrator of the city and oval corporation, said the network is "relatively new" and gives members access to artifacts and materials worth "millions."

"There are others who would be quite happy to have this honour," he said.

Still, another councillor, Derek Dang, said he would have liked to see more solid numbers in the project proposal, instead of "airy fairy stuff."

But Duncan insisted the museum doesn't pose a financial risk to Richmond, since the project is only drawing $575,000 directly from the city—an amount approved long ago. He noted the museum will utilize the oval's existing walls and front-end staff.

Duncan also told council the project will complement other local attractions and won't take away from a possible future city museum—one of council's goals that staff are expected to report on this fall.

Coun. Harold Steves called the Olympic museum an "exciting proposal" that—when paired with a new city museum—would help Richmond become a "heritage hub" for B.C.

"Putting all these together could really build a tremendous network of heritage sites. As long as we're doing both I'm happy."

The Olympic museum will be built on the mezzanine level, next to the Legacy Lounge. Other features will be located throughout the venue, including a theatre. Interactive elements are key to the design.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt and other councillors said Richmond's sporting history should remain a key part of the museum.

"I want to ensure the community feel isn't lost," she said. "I think it's important not to lose focus why the oval is actually there."

But John Mills, the oval corporation's chief operating officer, told council the Olympics is what will sell the museum to tourists.

"Every community has an interesting story and history. Richmond probably outperforms its size and it's of great interest to the people of Richmond, and it's some interest to others, but it's the Olympics…that will get out-of-town relatives into our community.

Richmond Olympic Experience Project

An official Olympic museum that will four areas of focus: Richmond's Olympic experience, the 2010 Winter Olympics, the history of sport in Richmond and Olympic movement and values

It will feature three areas: theatre, museum environment and interactive zone

Estimated to cost at least $6 million, with hotel room tax funding majority

Primary location is on mezzanine next to Legacy Lounge

Target opening of fall 2013

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