Yesterday afternoon I took a whirlwind tour of Richmond's O Zone. It was the second brief visit I had there, and thanks to my host Diana Waltmann of the City of Richmond, I found out a lot more is going on here than meets the eye. With the time we have left before O Zone closes up on Sunday evening, I recommend to check it out if you can. First, remember that it doesn't open until 3pm through Friday, and at noon over the weekend. There are some attractions on this site that are so cool – and not offered elsewhere – it might be worth making the trip out here.
First of all, we know it was a coup for Richmond to score the Games' most popular venue, Holland's Heineken House. Having them on-site has helped to create a hipper image for O Zone, and even for the City of Richmond as well. But we all know the story of Holland's house is that its popularity has made it hard to access for all those who want to celebrate there. But a pavilion named after one of the world's most famous brews isn't all that is drawing thousands to O Zone.
Perhaps one of the coolest reasons to stand in line has to be the games provided in the BC Lottery Corporation's tent. I couldn't make heads or tails out of the BCLC Games Dome, but seeing it up close makes me wish I had more time to check it out. You sit in a specially designed chair, then a globe is pulled down around your head. A projection fills the round orb and you're transported - virtually - into an exciting winter sport environment. There was a good-sized line-up at the BCLC tent for this, as well folks could play several other skill testing games, and apply for a special Olympic pass. The latter won't get you in any doors, but it looks like the accreditation that the VIPs get.
One attraction I missed the first time I passed through O Zone was their very cool (literally!) ice skating course. The ice, regardless of weather, is rock hard thanks to an innovative cooling system underneath. You can rent skates for $2, and race around the course (or in my case, ride on your ankles) for up to 45 minutes.
There is also a pretty strong kids indoor play area, and the fantastic stage set in front of the astroturf that whisks away dampness. You can watch sports on the big screen, or in the evening take in one of many live performances, and not get soaking wet feet provided it's not raining hard. As I've noted before the food on-site isn't that great, but you will be nourished by fairground food as long as you're not too fussy.
Another important detail about O Zone I have to mention is the security. Unlike the 2 LiveCity sites in Vancouver, whose onerous "mag and bag" scans have really taken away from those sites, O Zone is not doing body scans and only random bag checks. As a result, you get on site swiftly through the entrances, and you don't violated.
You might miss a few more features at O Zone if you don't bother to visit the areas beside Richmond City Hall. The Inniskillin Icewine Gallery is situated right next to the Ice Gate artwork. If you love dessert wines, then you should try to make a stop. Right next to the Ice Gate area is "BC Street" – essentially a series of regional tourism booths for the Province of BC. These hosts from the Okanagan, Kootenays and North Coast arrived here after an invitation at the last Union of BC Municipalities meeting from Richmond to be a part of the Vancouver experience.
Upstairs at City Hall there is an exhibit on speed skating, featuring one collector's set of skates going back a couple hundred years. There are also examples of the sleek speed skating uniforms, including that of Team Canada.
Finally, it's a more of a visual spectacle with an underlying business message, but Richmond have filled the water ways beside the building with cranberries to show off the city's agricultural business. Cranberries and blueberries are feature crops in Richmond, and the beautiful red streams of berries makes for some good photo opportunities. Across Granville Avenue, just south of Richmond City Hall, there is a free ferris wheel ride where you can look down on the cranberry Canadian Olympic logo placed in the middle of the park.
I was quite impressed by Diana's tour, and we talked a bit about why Richmond had pulled out all the stops, and provided so much great free entertainment. She told me that Richmond was really attempting to present itself as an active city, full of sport. As well, as proud hosts of the Richmond Olympic Oval, they want the world to know about Richmond as more than just a quick stop to exchange flights at YVR, and more as a great destination for world competition.
If you can get out to the O Zone before Sunday, I would highly recommend it. Just take the Canada Line right to the end of Richmond City Hall/Brighouse Station. There's a 2-block walk along No. 3 Road from the station. Check out a quick slideshow of images from Richmond's O Zone.