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Jeb Bladine: Sharing a passion for museum mission

In August 2016, when Steve Down agreed to donate $10.68 million to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, the museum promised to “appropriately acknowledge contributions of The Falls at McMinnville and Steven Down to the general public.”

Ironically, the most public acknowledgment to date occurred one week ago, when the museum filed suit against TFM for non-payment of a relatively small portion of that mandated gift.

As a brief background, in 2016, Down paid $10.9 million to acquire the museum’s space, water park and chapel buildings, plus adjacent lands, in federal bankruptcy court. He gave Evergreen a 30-year, rent-free lease on the space building. He assumed operation of the water park, and pledged its proceeds and those of on-campus events as security for payment of an extraordinary series of donations.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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The donation agreement requires TFM to make an irrevocable gift of $1.68 million. It is to be paid in monthly installments of $70,000 for the first two years, starting in January 2017, and monthly installments of $25,000 for the next 30 years, or as long as both parties “continue to conduct operations and/or events” in any of the five campus buildings.

In consideration, Down received rights to rename the space building; rename the theater building and theater so long as Evergreen is either owner or lessee; and create the Delford M. Smith and Steven Down Philanthropic Award, to be presented annually to the corporate entity donating the most to the museum.

TFM’s gift payments arrived often late in 2017, as Down’s companies suffered diverse and well-reported financial complications.

In response, the two parties amended their agreement last month to allow Evergreen more legal control over the TFM proceeds securing the donations. However, following a dispute over the April payment, Evergreen filed suit seeking $59,000.

A spokesman said TFM had donated the full $1.05 million required through March 2018, plus $26,000 of the April payment, with promise of the balance within two weeks. However, facing its own financial challenges, the museum decided legal action was warranted to secure access to TFM revenues, guaranteeing timely payment.

In 2016, when the museum enthusiastically endorsed Down’s bid to become its landlord, its since-departed executive director Ann Witsil termed TFM “very community focused,” sharing “a very similar focus and passion of the museum’s mission.” She said of TFM officials, “They get the mission, which is very important for us.”

Evergreen has a huge stake in the long-term viability of TFM. Needless to say, theirs is a complicated relationship.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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