Now open: Sports Museum of America
Olympic track star Carl Lewis looks at a display during the opening Wednesday of the Sports Museum of America in New York. AFP/Getty Images
amNY's Kyle Stack spoke with Phillip Schwalb about his quest to open this museum. Here's his file piece.
Phillip Schwalb's dream began during his first visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 10, 2001.
Schwalb's thinking that day went like this: What if there were a smaller, more accessible version of the basketball hall in New York City? And what if this museum of artifacts and interactive exhibits encompassed other sports?
Take an insider's video tour of the museum
The destruction in lower Manhattan the following day only emboldened the longtime sports and entertainment executive's dream of starting a sports museum. On Wednesday, the Sports Museum of America (SmA) opened at 26 Broadway, becoming "the nation's first and only all sports experience," as its Web site touts.
"I thought we could build something in New York City that would be both its own museum of all sports and an endorsement to get people to visit the actual Basketball Hall of Fame," said Schwalb, SmA's 45-year-old founder and chief executive officer. (The "m" in SmA's acronym is lower-case, officials said, to call attention to the museum's claim that it offers more than a traditional, gallery-based museum.)SmA is located, appropriately, on the Canyon of Heroes ticker-tape parade route. Its collection of more than 800 artifacts, 1,100 photos, 24 interactive exhibits and 20 original films will cover more than two dozen sports. The SmA is also the new, official home of the Heisman Trophy and the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center.
"For people to be able to come in and touch the original Heisman trophy that sat at the Downtown Athletic Club," Schwalb said, "I think that's going to be a huge draw."
Visitors will be able to cast their votes for the next Heisman winner, who will be awarded the trophy at SmA every December starting this year.
The Billie Jean King Center will house the Women's Sports Foundation International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, the first of its kind. The gallery will offer interactive exhibits and educational databases to inform visitors of the impact women have had on American sports.
"Every single sport has women that have been involved in playing at times when they got no attention," said author and sports historian Ernestine Miller, an SmA adviser. "These women who have never been recognized in any way will now have their opportunity."
That opportunity is there because of SmA's initial partnership with the Basketball Hall of Fame. Schwalb's willingness to work with one hall of fame led to partnerships with dozens more single-sport halls of fame.
"I thought it would end up being five or six," Schwalb said of these partnerships, "but it's turned out to be 62. ... I just think it [SmA] would be really inferior [without the partnerships]. You can build it, but it wouldn't truly be the national museum for sports."
"Done in the right way, sports should be as good a subject matter for a museum as art or science," he added.
The partnerships brought in artifacts such as Jesse Owens' diary from the 1936 Olympics and letters written by basketball inventor James Naismith. SmA, which will charge visitors $20 to $27 (children under 4 get in free), has also planned several innovative features.
"You'll be able to feel a lot of things that you would never feel in sports otherwise," Schwalb said. "You can put your face inside of a goalie's mask and then you're going to be seeing hockey pucks coming at you 100 miles per hour."
Another feature invites visitors to feel the intensity of driving in a NASCAR race.
"We specially filmed two walls," Schwalb explained. "On one wall, cars are coming at you, and on the other, they are going away from you. The sound and the motion of the floor will make you feel like you're in the middle of a NASCAR race."
Schwalb wanted SmA to be a part of lower Manhattan's revitalization, so he applied for Liberty Bonds. The tax-exempt bonds, of which SmA was awarded $52 million, are meant to encourage corporations to build their headquarters in lower Manhattan.
SmA was awarded the bonds after Ernst & Young conducted a study asserting that the museum had the potential, in its first year, to attract one million visitors and have a $100 million impact -- including construction costs and tourism -- on the area's economy.