Sports museum in Chicago is proposed by ex-Adler, Shedd executives

The Lucas Museum has landed in LA, no waterfront in sight

Two former museum executives are pitching an idea for a sports museum in Chicago that would use sports to teach visitors about everything from physics to statistics to race relations.

But whether the museum could be a grand slam or even get to first base depends on funding and support.

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 Other museums have struck out, namely the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which ended up in Los Angeles instead of Chicago after a battle over lakefront green space with the Friends of the Parks open space advocacy group. The Sports Museum of America in New York closed in 2009 after being open for only nine months due to financial problems and lagging attendance. Over the years, some of Chicago’s museums have relied on public subsidies, fee increases and cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.

Spearheading the effort to bring the American Sports Museum to Chicago is Marc Lapides, former chief marketing officer at the Adler Planetarium, and Roger Germann, former executive vice president at the Shedd Aquarium.

Plans for the museum are in the early stages, with officials looking to raise an estimated $50 million to operate a 100,000-square-foot space and find a location close to downtown and public transportation, Lapides said. About $1,700 of a $50,000 goal has been raised in an online crowdfunding campaign so far. The museum team, which received federal tax-exempt status from the IRS this month, hopes to meet with civic leaders, philanthropists and corporations interested in sponsorships to help further fundraising efforts.

“Sports is something that really connects us all,” crossing racial, income and gender lines, Lapides said. “This is a museum that will welcome everybody.”

Plans go beyond sports memorabilia to include a theater, sports-themed restaurant and classroom space for students. Sports would act as a gateway to science and social and political issues. Visitors could learn about the physics of a curve ball, race relations in high school football in the 1960s and 70s, sexism in golf or statistics through fantasy football.

Admission would be free for students on school field trips and discounted for Illinois residents like other Chicago museums, Lapides said. A fee structure for admission prices has yet to be determined.

The museum is registered with the state as a not-for-profit corporation and has no interest in borrowing or seeking public funds given the state’s finances, Lapides said. The group also is open to moving into an existing building to control construction costs and direct more money to programs and exhibits, he said.

Funding can be a challenge, said Robert Stein, executive vice president of the American Alliance of Museums, a Virginia-based organization that represents various institutions and museum professionals throughout the country. Keeping the doors open, securing insurance and staffing the museum are expensive, he said.

“Most museums in the country, their ticket prices don’t actually cover the full costs of what it takes to run a museum,” Stein said.

Major revenue sources include ticket sales, museum shops and dining; donations, gifts or grants from foundations and philanthropists; corporate sponsorships; and government assistance either through funds or land or building infrastructure, he said.

“Museums tend to be healthiest when revenues are diversified,” Stein said.

The online fundraising campaign can double as an indicator of public interest in the sports museum, he said. Keys to making a museum successful are having good leadership and the combination of tourists and residents as visitors, he said.

In the meantime, Chicago is gearing up to open the American Writers Museum in May on Michigan Avenue and seems open to the possibility of adding another museum to its portfolio.

“We always welcome new and innovative ideas for museums and cultural attractions that will add to both our cultural landscape and burgeoning tourism industry, benefiting our residents and families for years to come,” mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in a statement.

The proposed sports museum aims to distinguish itself from the various Halls of Fame by celebrating all sports and being based in a geographically central location. Sports Halls of Fame are often located in small towns and highlight a single sport, including the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Having such places spread out across the country can create a dilemma for families looking to make a summer trip, Lapides said. “If you’re a family and you’ve got a daughter who likes ice hockey and a son who likes football and a dad who likes baseball and mom who likes soccer, which Hall of Fame do you go to?” he said.

The museum would look to partner with the Halls of Fame to borrow items for exhibits as well as reach out to private collectors to get items on loan and purchase others.

Though the plan is to place the museum in Chicago, its exhibits won’t be Chicago-centric, Lapides said. The Chicago Sports Museum owned by Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group located at Water Tower Place fills that niche with interactive exhibits featuring the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant.

The proposed American Sports Museum would take three or four years to open and hopes to attract as many as 600,000 visitors, create temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs, and contribute to the city’s tax base, Lapides said.

Chicago presented itself as the ideal location for such a museum, he said. In addition to its rich cultural history, it has had success in hosting major sporting events such as the NFL draft, which attracted 200,000 visitors in 2015 and generated nearly $44 million in direct economic impact.

Not to mention Chicago teams’ winning streak: the Cubs World Series last year, the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cups this decade, the Sox World Series in 2005, the Bulls’ six championships in the 1990s and the 1985 Bears Super Bowl.

“It’s a great sports town, a great town for cultural institutions, a great town for tourism,” Lapides said.

lvivanco@chicagotribune.com

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