Museum of Sports is Lou Scheinfeld's next South Philly 'labor of love'

For the past 51 years, Lou Scheinfeld has had a penchant for embracing new ventures.

He left the Daily News in 1966 to take over "the new sports arena," the building he named The Spectrum. After closing the doors some 40-plus years later, Scheinfeld was named vice president of development at Comcast-Spectacor and he worked exclusively in the development of XFINITY Live!  

Now at the age of 81, Scheinfeld is knee-deep into his latest endeavor: The Museum of Sports, located in the heart of Philadelphia's sports complex.

"I've been doing it for six years. I started pro bono and I'm still doing it pro bono. It's a labor of love," Scheinfeld said.

We walked around the 25,000-square foot Jetro warehouse (currently stocked with nothing but cocoa butter). It is located next door to Lincoln Financial Field across Darien Street where The Museum of Sports will one day open its doors. It's an ideal location considering its proximity to I-95, the sports complex and the museum's ability to piggyback off the nine million fans who attend nearly 400 events every year.

"The key is we wanted to be in the sports complex," said Rick Berger, director of development. "People from Philadelphia have been coming to games their entire lives. There are just so many memories that we have growing up and there's not a home for them. So what the museum will be is a home here at the sports complex to honor, cherish the memories we have as Philadelphia sports fans."

The Museum of Sports will be a three-story, 35,000-square foot entertainment center with the DePace collection of rare and priceless memorabilia serving as the museum's main attraction. South Jersey cardiologist Nicholas DePace has agreed to donate and loan his remarkably impressive collection of artifacts, which includes the famed bell from the 1926 heavyweight championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney that drew more than 120,000 fans to Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain's last game-used jersey with the 76ers, and even Jesse Owens' track uniform that he wore during his four-gold-medal-winning performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

Scheinfeld realizes the nostalgia of sports typically lures an older demographic with a sense of history. In order to attract fans of all ages, especially a younger crowd, developers are working on a 2,250-square foot, state-of-the-art arcade that specializes in virtual reality.

"The sports arcade is going to be like a Dave & Busters on steroids — high tech virtual reality," Scheinfeld said. "What's it like to row in the Dad Vail Regatta? What's it like to ride your bike up the Manayunk Wall? A lot of experiential, virtual reality stuff where you can actually feel like you're there."

Along with a rooftop, four-hole, mini-golf course, a retail shop and a restaurant, Scheinfeld also envisions the museum as the hub to attract other events.

"This building will be occupied every day with something," Scheinfeld said. "Press conferences, awards. If Mike Schmidt writes a book, we want him to sign it here. If Dr. J (Julius Erving) is selling his memorabilia, we want him to do it here. Every day, there has to be something going on here."

Staying operational and free of debt will be the museum's ultimate challenge. One of the main reasons the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto continues to thrive is the contributions of each of the 30 (soon to be 31) NHL clubs, which donate $50,000 each toward operating costs. That's $1.5 million the Museum of Sports won't have the luxury of collecting on an annual basis, so Scheinfeld knows it's imperative to keep expenses down. For a guy who checked his Spectrum mailbox daily to keep the arena from going under, Scheinfeld knows the importance of sticking to budget.

"It has to be a mean-and-lean operation," Scheinfeld said. "We can't open with 100 employees and debt. We want to open with no debt by having all these contributions and grants, and cover all these opening-day costs. From then on, it's sponsorships."      

With The Museum of Sports at a start-up cost of $7.5 million, Scheinfeld and Berger are on track to provide a unique, one-of-a-kind museum that will provide that "wow" factor.

When Scheinfeld was asked what his timeline is for the grand opening, he said jokingly, "Before I pass. I don't know the expiration date on that, but we think 18 months at the most, so that's late 2018 or early 2019."