New life for an old building

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Owner Bob Rennie donates its use to Games’ athletes

Clare Ogilvie

Developer Bob Rennie and the World Olympian Association’s Charmaine Crooks celebrate on the roof of the Wing Sang. Photograph by: Jon Murray, The Province

The 120-year-old Wing Sang building in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown has a long history of welcoming people who needed a place to call home until they found their feet in Canada.

So it is fitting that its owner, condo-king Bob Rennie, has donated the newly renovated heritage building as a home-away-from-home for any Olympians and Paralympians visiting B.C. for the 2010 Games.

“I learned [that] past world Olympians needed a home and to me, that just sounded like a really nice, simple use for our business and for our area,” said Rennie, who plans to move his office and art-collection gallery to the location soon.

“If it is about diversity . . . the building speaks to that, the area speaks to that and the Olympics certainly speaks to that.”

Rennie is also keen to bring the Games experience to the Downtown Eastside.

“I want the Downtown Eastside to be part of the Olympics,” he said.

Rennie had offered the Wing Sang for use as Canada House, but when a sponsor had issues with it, the deal soured.

So when Charmaine Crooks, the vice-president of both the international World Olympian Association and of Canada’s chapter, asked if Rennie could offer up the building for WOA, it all came together.

“The great thing that I love about this centre is that we have someone in the community who has donated to us,” said Crooks, who won silver for Canada in athletics at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

“Like many others, we rely on the kindness of our community partners, and in Bob Rennie we have found someone who really believes in what we are doing.”

There are 100,000 known living Olympians in the world — 3,000 of them in Canada.

At each Games since 1992, there has been a hospitality house offered, where they can meet and reconnect and work on programs related to Olympic legacies.

“The hospitality centre will be alive with passion,” said Crooks.

“It will be alive with memories and it is a great way for sponsors and the community to really connect with the Olympians.”

Crooks plans to run outreach programs to the community, youth and others through 2010 partners, such as the Vancouver Organizing Committee and various levels of governments.

Already, 50 Canadian Olympians have signed up to volunteer at the centre. There will also be an international forum on sport tourism as a catalyst for development.

“If we can use some of the programs that we do through the centre to give back to the community, then we will have something that really resonates with the Olympic values, and that’s what spirit of the Games is all about,” said Crooks.

“We are doing it because it is the right thing to do.”

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