By editorial board • 

Museum continues to adapt through adversity

We know this much about the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum: It’s still open and operational. 

That’s about the only constant we can attribute to the beloved attraction and educational center. Someone new to town may have read last week’s paper, heard about the corporate bankruptcy of one of the museum’s landlords, and assumed the museum’s demise was imminent. But our longtime readers know that fits and starts are a way of life for Evergreen.

In its nearly two-decade existence at its current location, the museum has endured siting and occupancy issues, land use appeals, project delays, exhibit uncertainty and multiple bankruptcies confusing enough to make a person’s head spin. Currently entangled in another landlord’s bankruptcy, the museum is taking the stance of rolling with the punches.

In the current saga, Utah-based The Falls Event Center, LLC, has filed for Chapter 11 restructuring. TFEC in 2016 purchased the waterpark, space museum and chapel buildings from the previous landlord’s bankruptcy. TFEC turned the chapel into an events center managed by The Falls at McMinnville, LLC; it’s still uncertain which of the LLCs legally owns the buildings and surrounding lands.

After that 2016 purchase, we expressed optimism that TFEC would be a positive partner for the museum. But a year ago, after learning of an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, we observed it appears we were “dead wrong.” That commentary included:

“It’s never a good sign when your chief benefactor, the flamboyant entrepreneur you’re counting on for your salvation, finds himself simultaneously trying to reverse flagging financial fortunes and fend off federal fraud investigators. This is the situation now facing Steve Down, with whom the beleaguered museum seems to have irredeemably cast its fate … Once vowing to proceed with imminent construction of a hotel ... Down has since been reduced to surreptitiously hawking two of the most popular planes in the museum collection. He owns seven more, which doesn’t bode well. A museum without enough worthy exhibits risks losing its allure, and the stakes rise when it lacks a major local population center to fall back on.”

That’s not to say the museum’s life in the “Falls era” has been disastrous. The corporate entity owned by Down operates the waterpark, allowing the museum to focus on its core mission (“To inspire and educate, promote and preserve aviation and space history, and honor the patriotic service of our veterans”). TFEC provided free rent and has contributed $1.26 million to the museum.

The Falls Event Center, engulfed in bankruptcy and charges of defrauding investors, hired turnaround expert Brooks Pickering as CEO, replacing Down. Pickering’s résumé includes multiple CEO stints with major corporations in technology and hospitality industries.

Down, like the late Evergreen Aviation founder Del Smith, embraced strategies of building first and worrying about financial foundation second. Pickering, at first glance, seems entrenched in launching start-ups and selling them off, sometimes acting as Mr. Fix-it for failing companies.

While waiting to learn the financial fate of TFEC, and beyond, the doors of Evergreen Museum will remain open.



Everything connected with this museum and its origin reminds me of those days of yore mini-features between movies in which the train is careening 'round the bend toward the heroine tied to the tracks by the dastardly cad. Consistently on the brink of calamity. You must return next week to see if she's squashed to death. Too much drama swirling around.