Sports hall, Thorpe museum to move
By Steve Lackmeyer
The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Jim Thorpe Museum are moving to the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark where the legendary athlete's story will be shared with millions who visit the entertainment district.
The hall of fame and museum opened in 2009 at its current location at 4040 N Lincoln Blvd. The museum is a showcase of Oklahoma's top athletes with an array of memorabilia representing Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, who is widely regarded as the best all-around athlete of the 20th century.
Eddie Griffin, director of the hall of fame and museum, hopes Thorpe's statue will be displayed prominently at the entrance of what was previously Coach's Restaurant.
“People are always in awe of Jim Thorpe,” Griffin said. “Jim Thorpe was an Oklahoma legend and icon. He excelled in track, baseball and football. He was the first commissioner of the NFL. He was an amazing figure not just in Oklahoma, but the world.”
Michael Byrnes, general manager of the Oklahoma City Dodgers, has spent the past five years looking to bring life back to the former restaurant that was last home to Coach's.
Original designs for the ballpark envisioned a two-story restaurant but was reduced to the second floor with a patio overlooking the ball field.
“I've learned a lot about the real estate industry and the restaurant industry,” Byrnes said. "It didn't have dedicated parking. And for some restaurant operators, that gave them pause. It also doesn't have immediate street-side visibility. It was set off from Mickey Mantle Drive on the second floor.”
The 10,000 square feet, Byrnes said, also was bigger than what operators wanted.
That space, however, is an exact match for the space currently used by the hall of fame and museum. And with a purchase offer for the former office building by an affiliate of the Chickasaw Nation, the timing for a move appealed to both sides.
“We've had a lot of activity and we've had a lot of visitors who have come by bus and from schools,” Griffin said. “But the positive aspect of Bricktown is there are people already there. We will have foot traffic with all the people who are already visiting Bricktown. Currently we have to be the destination. With Bricktown, you have other places to visit, restaurants and other attractions.”
The move to Bricktown is expected to be completed in early 2018, though Griffin adds the operation may take some additional time to open to the public as displays are rebuilt. The hall of fame and museum includes more than 3,000 items, including Thorpe's Olympic ribbons and an early track certificate.
With the move to Bricktown, the hall of fame will be giving up its banquet hall that was catered by the Petroleum Club. But the organization will be working with the Dodgers to host some events in its banquet rooms.
“We're always looking for ways to drive traffic to the ballpark,” Byrnes said. “We understand the value that asset has for our community. So whether it's Dodgers baseball games, nonprofit events, snow-tubing, or collegiate athletics, well, this adds to that. And it's neat this happens in our 20th season, that we have this new way to connect people to the ballpark.”