Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



McMINNVILLE -- Jeopardized properties on the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum campus appear to be safe after a sale has been completed that satisfies the property owner’s bankruptcy filed early this year.GARY ALLEN - The Evergreen Air Museum and some planes, such as this F-14 Tomcat, were not part of the recent sale of the space museum and water park to Falls Event Center.

On Aug. 19, the Falls Event Center completed its purchase of several parcels and additional assets on the Evergreen campus.

The $10.9 million sale transfers the Wings & Waves Waterpark, the chapel building, the space museum, a site long planned for development of a hotel, and other vacant parcels in the vicinity of the campus, to the Utah-based event center company.

The handful of properties were threatened when the Michael King Smith Foundation -- which owns the land and acts as a landlord to the space museum, waterpark and other buildings -- filed for bankruptcy in January.

The foundation declared bankruptcy as some of its largest creditors sought to foreclose on its assets, citing millions in unpaid debts.

As of mid-July those three secured creditors -- Hoffman Construction (which built the space museum, waterpark and chapel), Gem Cap Lending and the Yamhill County tax collector -- were owed more than $10.5 million, which the sale covers.

Although the space museum is being transferred, museum officials say they’re confident the new owner will be a “supportive and collaborative landlord,” and they stress it will operate as it has in the past.

“We’ll continue to remain as tenants on campus and the campus will be kept whole as a museum entity,” museum executive director Ann Witsil said last week. “We will not be changing, in fact we’ll be really ramping up our focus on the education component of the museum.”

The aviation museum portion of the campus was not part of the sale. Along with the theater building and a number of planes, the aviation museum was separately sold through the Evergreen Vintage Bankruptcy settlement last year and is owned by Mid Atlantic Housing Corp LLC, which is owned by George Schott.

Despite the fact that the aviation museum portion of the campus was not involved in the Michael King Smith Foundation bankruptcy, the confusion led a lot of people to believe the whole museum was in danger of closing. The recent sale, Witsil estimated, will do a lot to clear up the confusion.

“This definitely takes away that misperception and it also gives us the financial support moving forward, so we can really start becoming the vision that the founder had in a very positive way,” Witsil said. “It’s big for us.”

Also with the sale the waterpark will transition into being operated as a for-profit entity, and will be run by the new owner beginning in January. Longstanding plans to build a hotel on the campus may also come to fruition with the sale, as the new owner has voiced a commitment to develop the hotel resort, Witsil said.

Nine aircraft will also be sold to the event center: a 1945 FG-1D Corsair; 1944 P-51D Mustang; PBY5-A; replica of the Ryan Spirit of St Louis DC 3; FW-190A replica; Ryan ST3KR #2161; Cassutt Racer and Cloud Dance JN-4 Jenny.

But the planes will all stay on campus, Witsil said, adding that the new owner “very much wants to keep everything in place.”

In a release, event center CEO Steve Down highlighted the buyers’ goal to increase tourism to the area with the museum, and to “support and grow the campus as originally envisioned by the founder, Delford M. Smith.”

“We intend to help the museum become Oregon’s top destination within a few years,” Down said.

It’s a bold goal to shoot for, but Witsil said she sees it as realistic, especially with the planned hotel.

“(Down) sees this as a very synergistic relationship,” Witsil said. “We do well and they will do well.”

The event center plans to utilize the chapel for weddings and other large events. The venue has already appeared on the company’s website, alongside an in-progress event center in Beaverton and its other venues in Arizona, California, Colorado and Utah.

With most of the bankruptcy anxiety eased, the museum is now focusing on its educational programs and future opportunities. The museum recently established a partnership with the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Wash., to bring Evergreen’s learning programs into the Vancouver area; the Evergreen museum is expanding its aeronautics and drone training program; the McMinnville campus will host a number of TED Talks; and in September the museum is launching a new collaborative program with Innovate Oregon, focusing on promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning for youth with an emphasis on applying those skills to community enhancement projects.

These and other ventures, Witsil said, are the things the museum has been eager to focus on, and can receive more attention with the bankruptcy cleared up.

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