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Museum hunts for new home

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by: KATIE HARTLEY, The Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is looking for a new exhibition space for its collection.

Awareness? Concern? Outcry? They were no-shows last weekend as time ran out on a lot of history.

Like some training camp invitee put on waivers, the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is quietly packing up its belongings, getting ready to turn out the lights and shuffle out its doors on Southwest Third Avenue and Salmon Street for good.

The hall's lease expires June 30, and the building owners want the space for other purposes. 'We've known for some time,' says Mike Rose, the hall's executive director.

The hall closed to the public Friday. It is looking for new digs, preferably downtown -and a dramatically different approach.

'We're a well-kept secret, and we haven't had the marketing budget to make a lot of noise,' Rose says. 'So we want to break the mold and become a little more commercial. We're talking to a number of restaurant developers and at least one TV-radio component, and exploring a couple of attractive locations.'

The hall had a good financial deal at its former location, but Rose says it can't afford the going rents elsewhere downtown. No other landlord has offered cheap rates downtown, and moving to the sticks is not an appealing option.

That leaves one possibility, and it's one that Rose gets excited about -teaming up with a restaurant and media outlet. Such a partnership probably would slice the hall's previous exhibit space (7,000 square feet) in about half but provide more exposure, including the potential for live broadcasts.

'If we were part of a sports-themed restaurant and bar, a lot of our artifacts could become trim (on the wall) and there could be a small set or studio for TV and radio,' Rose says. 'It could take on almost an ESPN Zone personality. If we can pull this off, I think we'd be a unique, historical cultural and entertainment option in downtown, like nobody else.'

Exhibits would have to be rotated more frequently, 'but with the right broadcast partner,' Rose says, 'creative programming from the venue is a possibility -such as events with inductees or other sports personalities.'

Rose would like to be able to say that the hall has agreed in principle with some equally excited partners, and zeroed in on a premium location. But no one knows when or where the museum will reopen. With an existing retail site, Rose estimates it could happen in less than a year, 'maybe 18 months. If we're looking at new construction, it could be two to three years.'

The ideal location is 'a high-traffic area for walk-ins, so something on Park Avenue or 10th Street, or in the west end, anything from Burnside to Taylor, where the action is.'

The hall had fewer than 10,000 visitors a year, Rose says, and it has 600 to 700 members, many of whom pay the $35 annual fee for individuals. The membership includes the more than 350 inductees, for whom the fee is waived. The adult admission price was $4.

'It's tough for any museum to make it on attendance and membership alone,' Rose says. 'You have to have big-time donors, corporate sponsors, to make it.'

Rose says he has talked with both the Trail Blazers and Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Beavers and Timbers, but nothing has come of them.

'We talked about doing something in the Rose Quarter or in the Memorial Coliseum itself,' Rose says. 'We turned it upside down and inside out and tried to figure out a way to make something work. And it did not, for a number of reasons, the biggest being that when no event is going on, that area is the dark side of the moon, a dead zone.

'Early on, we talked to Merritt, but there really isn't anything available at PGE Park; they're pretty tight for space there. Needless to say, though, we will attempt to build a more solid relationship with them.'

Most of the exhibits will go into storage at an undisclosed warehouse, although Rose says the Oregon Historical Society has donated space for a temporary exhibit to open in August. 'Some of our high-profile stuff, like Terry Baker's Heisman Trophy and our Steve Prefontaine material, will be there,' he says.

So, too, will items related to the hall's next inductees. The class of 2008 has yet to be determined, but it will be honored at the annual banquet Sept. 25.

'We're going dim, not dark,' Rose says.

Also, the hall is working with Comcast SportsNet to create 13 30-minute programs based on Oregon's sports history.

'We've got 30 years of induction ceremonies in one form or another and other major programming, from Olympics to local college games,' Rose says. 'We're remastering it and categorizing it more accurately. There's a 10-foot-by-10-foot bookcase full of films and video. We've got a lot of stuff.'

But for now, no place for the public to see it.