Collector’s dream: ISHOF boasts everything from antique swimwear to Olympic medals and more than a quarter of a million photos.
Collector’s dream: ISHOF boasts everything from antique swimwear to Olympic medals and more than a quarter of a million photos.

After 45 years in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the International Swimming Hall of Fame may be moving once its lease expires in 2015.

Located at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center, officials at the organization are unhappy with an upcoming redevelopment of the aging complex. If the city proceeds with its current plan, ISHOF will be moved to an unsatisfactory, poorly located building, they believe.

“It’s purely a business decision,” said President/CEO Bruce Wigo of the pending move. “It hasn’t been working here for a while. We are at the end of a 50-year lease. Do we stay here because of tradition and go out of business, or do we take a step up and turn into the world-class museum that we think we can be?”

Attendance at ISHOF has suffered in recent years, largely because FLAC isn’t nearly the attraction it was in its heyday. When it opened in 1965, it was one of the premier aquatics centers in the nation and one of the few with the capacity to accommodate large events. Today, 50-meter pools are common, with 18 in the surrounding county alone, and all are vying to host events.

While the city of Fort Lauderdale is proceeding with a $32.4 million overhaul of the aquatics center, ISHOF’s board of directors believes the organization can do better.

Though nothing is definite, Santa Clara, Calif., is one possible location. Leaders of the Santa Clara Blue and Gold Ribbon Commission have pledged $10 million for the relocation of ISHOF and an additional $2 million for an endowment. The Santa Clara site would put ISHOF in the thick of a high-traffic entertainment district, in close proximity to the San Francisco 49ers football stadium and across the street from the city’s convention center. Wigo believes the move to a more heavily traveled area with a rich swimming history will greatly improve the Hall’s visibility and attendance.

ISHOF possesses a massive collection of just about everything related to swimming, including antique swimwear, the largest collection of Olympic medals, rare books and scrapbooks dating back to the 1600s, an art collection, and more than a quarter of a million photographs.

“It’s a magnificent collection,” said Peter Sollogub, a museum exhibition designer with Cambridge Seven Associates, an architecture and design firm based in Cambridge, Mass., with extensive experience working with sports and science museums, halls of fame, aquariums and other public spaces. “It has a very rich story to tell. With the national, global and historical breadth of the collection, I think they have a great opportunity to really create a museum that is a powerhouse.”

Other cities have expressed interest in ISHOF. Wigo expects a decision to be announced by year’s end, and a move completed in about two years. While a new facility is being constructed and new exhibits designed, part of the Hall’s collection likely will be gathered in a temporary location — sort of a preview of coming attractions — and one or more traveling exhibits could circulate to venues around the country. ISHOF has organized exhibitions in recent years that traveled to China and England.

Among other advantages, relocating to a brand-new building gives the ISHOF board the opportunity to refresh and redesign its exhibits, which should be done every five to seven years, according to Sollogub.

“I think we’re unique,” Wigo said. “We think we have the potential to have the same attendance as Cooperstown or Canton or Springfield and some of the major halls of fame.”