Mayor defends Olympic museum plan for the Richmond oval

The Richmond Olympic Oval will be home to an Olympic museum. - file photo
The Richmond Olympic Oval will be home to an Olympic museum.
— image credit: file photo

Calling it an “unparalleled” opportunity, Richmond’s mayor defended a plan Monday to build a multi-million dollar museum inside the Richmond Olympic Oval after a critic slammed the idea.

“We get all these visitors to the oval, but they’re not going to come forever just to see the building. So we can renew that experience,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “We have an opportunity to be involved with the Olympics, which is the most sought after brand in the world.”

In an 8-0 vote, city council gave its formal endorsement to the oval museum, a project that will cost $6 to $10 million, according to the oval’s chief operating officer John Mills.

Dubbed the Richmond Olympic Experience project, the museum will occupy up to 12,000 square feet inside the oval, with other “Olympic moments” placed in the buildings corridors. It will feature rotating exhibitions with memorabilia coming from the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic museum network—an exclusive club Richmond has been accepted into.

It’s set to open in the fall of 2013, and admission fees are expected to average $15.

But the project was panned Monday night by Peter Mitchell, a council candidate in last fall’s election. He called the oval an “exceptionally costly facility” that has avoided the same level of public consultation and scrutiny of other city projects.

Mitchell questioned the museum’s ballooning budget and staff’s revenue projections—suggesting oval features such as the climbing wall and rowing tank are underused.

“I have to wonder if the optimistic planning for the experience (project) is not the same set of people who’ve planned these other things that just routinely don’t manage to deliver what they’ve promised,” he said.

But the mayor said council’s contribution of $575,000 hasn’t changed, noting the project’s scope has grown because funding has been found outside city coffers. Brodie said the museum will now feature Richmond’s Olympic experience and sport history, along with the 2010 Games and the Olympic movement—and “won’t just be a static display of Olympic torches.”

The project’s final budget depends on whether sponsorship deals can be signed and a federal grant can be secured.

“We have to face the fact that we have the legacy project from the Games. What else do you hear about? What else do you see?” said Mayor Brodie. “When people come from very far away, it’s the oval they come to see.”

The lone councillor to vote against the project in an earlier committee vote, Coun. Chak Au, changed his tune Monday.

“With more information and the answers staff gave me…I’m confident this can really be a successful operation in Richmond,” said Au, adding he’s received assurance the project won’t be a drain on taxpayers.

Au still had questions, namely about the future facility's status as the only Olympic museum in North America—something proponents often repeated in their pitch to council. Au wondered how long Richmond would hold the exclusive title. But staff suggested more Olympic museums on the continent would complement Richmond, and that the oval would always have the distinction of being first.

Coun. Ken Johnston said Richmond lacks attractions to draw tour groups here, and the new museum will make the city a destination for tour operators.

Coun. Bill McNulty said the museum has great potential to showcase Richmond’s own Olympic history, which he said began in 1928 with Del Grauer—a lacrosse player and Richmond’s first Olympic athlete.

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