By editorial board • 

Museum's had enough Down; deserves future with more up

We used to think nothing could rival Del Smith’s homegrown aviation empire for being secretive and mysterious, volatile and litigious, tangled and troubled.

Founded by a flamboyant entreprenuer who seemed forever mortgaged to the eyeballs, Evergreen International Aviation and its web of subsidiaries found themselves ever lurching from one potential catastrophe to the next. Thus, it came as no surprise when it collapsed in a spectacular web of bankruptcy litigation, victim of a long pattern of overreach and hubris.

But we didn’t give enough credit to the other legacy Smith spun off — the one that survived dissolution of all he had wrought on the for-profit side. We speak, of course, of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum/Waves & Wings Waterpark complex he developed across the highway from his sprawling corporate headquarters.

In recent years, it’s been battered by a seemingly endless series of bankrupty proceedings, sheriff’s sales, civil suits, asset selloffs, tax actions and other entanglements. Its saving grace has basically come down to this:

What profitable purpose can you possibly put to a trio of massive structures of utterly unique construction and purpose — particularly when they are located not in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but a rural hub of just 35,000 people? The situation virtually begs for a white knight combining substantive means with benevolent intent.

The complex’s aviation museum anchor got one, the aviation-oriented Collings Foundation, last time it found itself languishing in bankruptcy. But the space musuem, water park, chapel and lodge site elements did not.

In Steve Down and his Falls Event Center, they got another regulation-aversive, profit-first entrepreneur cast in Smith’s mold. His empire was as highly leveraged as Smith’s, and quickly collapsed in like fashion.

The latest bankruptcy auction has produced a tentative buyer to replace Down’s The Falls Event Center.

The party’s identity remains undisclosed as of this writing, and there’s still time for a competitor to emerge and steal the prize. However, the failure of Down to turn enough profit to keep the operation going, let alone build the grand on-site lodge envisioned by Smith as the cherry on top, gives up hope.

Our fingers are crossed the sale goes to a sober-minded benefactor — someone prepared to use his or her own money, rather than someone else’s, and put it to the museum’s best interests, rather than his or her own.

Down’s demise left the museum with a substantial back-taxes bill, a long list of deferred maintenance needs and a lodge site still awaiting meaningful action. The right buyer would be someone willing and able to address those needs, and in the process, finally put this McMinnville pride and joy on the sound financial and managerial footing it deserves.

Despite its rough edges, the museum is already a crown jewel. But it has yet to reach its full potential.

Maybe the third time’s the charm. Maybe it will get the polishing touch it needs this time around.

The museum seems virtually certain to survive, but we aren’t content with that. We want to see it thrive for a change.



Del Smith contributed both funds to start the museums and then continously funded their operation. That would indicate that they are not self supporting - they need donations to operate without debt. He may have not cared whether or not they were ever self supporting. A new owner will probably care. Owning a museum and then having to put more money into it to keep it going is probably not appealing to many people. Del Smith did so because it had Mike's name on it.

I don't understand your comparison of Smith and Down. Smith ran a legitimate business in a very aggressive manner. Down is charged with fraud by the SEC and the case is pending.

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