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OTTAWA – The Montreal headquarters of Canada’s Olympic movement is getting a major makeover.


A 1,486 square metre space in the heart of the city is being turned into a centre of Canadian sport for athletes and the public, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee says.


The new facility will feature the Olympic rings on the building, a museum and a gift shop as well as administrative space, Marcel Aubut said in an interview Sunday.


“It’s going to be a unique showcase for Olympics in Canada,” Aubut said. “It’s going to be lots more than the COC offices.”


The building is being given to the COC rent-free, thanks to a deal between the Quebec government and the building’s current owners.


Aubut says the site will open in September, after which he’ll get to work on a similar project for the COC’s offices in Toronto.


He adds he had begun negotiating with former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and will go back to discuss it with current Premier Kathleen Wynne in the next six months.


An Olympic museum was opened by a private group in Toronto in 2004 but the $42 million facility in the heart of downtown closed two years later.


Meanwhile, the COC is closing its Ottawa office, and splitting its work between Montreal and Toronto.


Aubut says closing up shop in the nation’s capital, plus the rent savings in Montreal, will see $600,000 a year go back into COC coffers.


Since first being elected as COC president in 2009, Aubut has sought to dramatically raise the profile of both the organization and Olympic sport in general, in part by applying much more of a private-sector approach to its operations.


He’s brought in executives with extensive experience in marketing and communications and re-signed several lucrative sponsorship deals that many feared would lapse after the record highs achieved thanks to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.


Last fall, the COC announced it had reached a target of $100 million in new or renewed funds for the next four years.


Aubut, who was re-elected to a second term over the weekend, says closing the Ottawa office doesn’t mean the amateur sporting world’s link with the federal government is being severed.


The federal government gave out $31 million in direct funding to winter sport federations this past season, plus another $6.9 million in athletes’ assistance.


“There is no way now that being on site in Ottawa gives you advantage vis-a-vis the government in getting more,” Aubut said, noting that government ministers are often easier to reach outside of Ottawa.


“There will be even more interaction in being in Montreal.”


Aubut says the focus for the next four years includes beefing up the capacity of sports federations to organize and look after their athletes, while still promoting athletes and coaches.


“They are all assets that we can offer to this country as examples to accomplish different projects in society and resolve society’s problems,” Aubut said. “Not only two weeks after a Games, but all along.”


Aubut, the former president of the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques, was the first francophone to be elected president of the COC since the organization was established in 1947.


His election was seen as a nod to the possibility that Quebec City could be the next Canadian city to bid to host an Olympics.


Last year, Aubut managed to draw the influential SportAccord convention to the city and with it, a meeting of the International Olympic Committee’s powerful executive board.


This weekend’s election saw the COC gain more representation from Quebec: Kevin Gilmore, the chief operating officer for the Montreal Canadiens, was also elected to the board.

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Une des possibilités pour redonner de la vitalité au Parc Olympique, c'est d'y créer une sorte de cité du sport amateur, musée, etc. Ça pourrait en faire partie. Great news.

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