The U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs has hired the former head of a Smithsonian Institution division as its chief executive officer.
Christopher Liedel, 57, who was president of the nonprofit Smithsonian Enterprises, will start as CEO on May 15, the Olympic Museum's board of directors announced Tuesday. He was hired after a national search by RSR Partners, a Connecticut-based executive search firm.
"Chris Liedel is the perfect combination of experienced leader, entrepreneur and strategic thinker that we need to lead the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame forward," said Dave Ogrean, former executive director of Colorado Springs-based USA Hockey who took over as the nonprofit museum's board chairman in mid-March. "He will take us through the construction of the museum and into the opening and operations."
Liedel was Smithsonian Enterprises president for almost six years. That arm of the Smithsonian was created to generate income, and Liedel oversaw key commercial activities, including Smithsonian Media, retail, e-commerce, educational and consumer-branded products and food services.
He also worked for the National Geographic Society for 16 years as executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Liedel said he decided last fall to step down from his position at the Smithsonian and wanted to get back to his "entrepreneurial roots" and "was looking for an opportunity to get involved in something that was more of a start-up."
"It's a chance to really be able to build a museum of people ... of the athletes, the Team USA, and really focus on telling their stories and being able to really bring that to life," he said.
The chance to head the museum also would allow him to leverage his abilities in media, retail and food services, Liedel said.
The $75 million, 60,000-square-foot Olympic Museum is expected to open in 2019. The project is under construction at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street in southwest downtown, and supporters marked its midway point last week.
The museum will have 20,000 square feet for interactive displays and exhibits designed to pay tribute to the nation's Olympic and Paralympic movements, along with their athletes and coaches. The venue also will have a state-of-the-art theater, gift shop, café and broadcast studio.
Liedel said he wants the museum to have compelling and creative content that will encourage visitors to return several times.
"I hope that we get to really create a great sense of civic pride," he said. "I want it to be one of the best museums. I want it to be part of the arts and culture aspect of the city, besides being about sports."
Liedel will follow Pam Shockley-Zalabak, the retired chancellor from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who has served as the museum's interim CEO since August.
Liedel's board affiliations have included the Nobel Prize Education Fund; the National Philanthropic Trust, which he chaired from 2005 to 2008; EdWeek Magazine; and the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research Foundation, the release said.
He serves on the board of the PGA of America and previously served on the executive committee of the U.S. Golf Association, where he chaired the museum committee.
A Virginia resident, Liedel received a bachelor's degree at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a master's degree from Georgia State.
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