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Olympic Reunion Centre Set for Chinatown in 2010

Vancouver’s Wing Sang Building to Host the World’s Olympians

There is no Olympic venue in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But deep in the heart of Chinatown, a legendary building is set to become the home-away-from-home for all the world’s Olympians in February 2010.

The 120-year-old Wing Sang Building, at 51 East Pender Street, is being remodelled by top condo seller Bob Rennie – who has provided it rent-free to the World Olympians Association (WOA). It will be a reunion centre, a home during the Olympic Winter Games for any athlete who has ever competed at the Olympic level.

One who has is former track athlete Charmaine Crooks, a five-time Olympian and vice-president of the WOA. She said she is very excited about the project. “The reunion centre gives Olympians from elsewhere a real place to gather.”

Typically it opens the day before the Games and stays open until the Closing Ceremony. Inside, Olympians have a relaxed environment to watch events on the television, enjoy a variety of amenities and services and attend receptions and art showings. It is the central hub for them and their family and friends.

The WOA reunion centre’s first formal incarnation came during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. It came from an idea sprouted 12 years earlier in Los Angeles, where Olympians would host informal gatherings for friends they hadn’t seen since days of competition. Now, the reunion centre is part of the fabric of each Games, and is known as the most exclusive club in town – open to any of the WOA’s estimated alumni of 100,000 winter and summer Olympians.

Though it isn’t entirely exclusive: Crooks said there will be days when the centre will be open for the public to explore the exhibits it will feature. As well, one of the aims is to connect the communities on the Downtown Eastside, and to that end she said the WOA will engage in community programs and youth outreach.

At six stories, the Wing Sang is a heritage building and one of the oldest in Chinatown. In 1881, Yip Sang travelled to British Columbia for the gold rush. He would wind up one of the patriarchs of Chinatown, and started a business that focused on imports, exports and retail. Inside his Wing Sang building were stores and even an opium factory. Wing Sang Limited operated from 1889 until 1955.

Bob Rennie is reopening the building as his office and art gallery. If you wander by in the evening, you’ll see a white neon sign that lines the top of the facade. It reads: “Everything is going to be alright.” Not a bad sentiment for the Olympic Games – a celebration of sport, culture and diversity – and for Vancouver’s troubled-but-improving Downtown Eastside.