By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Museum says it may vacate space building if Falls doesn't pay up

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So many different opinions and opposing views. Was nothing written down so that there would be no issue? Has TFM misrepresented itself? Does the airport have space to house a new museum?


Both museums have given up. I was there this week - dust and cobwebs everywhere. The windows and light fixtures are covered with it and the aircraft are filthy - both inside the museums and outside. The former "Air Force One" plane sitting outside of the Space Museum has green slime all over it. They aren't even bothering to keep air in the tires of the planes.


Maybe the homeless could relocate here.


I realize deep-rooted local animosity toward anything Del Smith touched likely prevents any real support for an inventive public / private partnership that could save the museum. But it would be a shame to let this once world-class facility decay just for spite — the proverbial baby-with-the-bathwater scenario. I’m sure the people who were screwed by Smith feel a dull sense of justice watching his creation decline but the price for this small victory is losing a once awe-inspiring museum with immense educational and entertainment opportunities. It’s always surprised me that this community seems to show little interest in saving what should be an enormous tourist draw — many municipalities would kill to land such a notable endeavor.

I know the situation has been vastly complicated by several flaky players and a lot of bad faith. I don’t know how the partnership I propose would take shape in view of the current mess but I do know Smith is dead and punishing the museum for his sins makes little sense.

In my opinion, we should all be clamoring to save this remarkable resource.


Who said anything at all about Del Smith? The museums are at a critical turning point. It appears the previous bankruptcy judge who approved the sale to Downs made a mistake. Bankruptcy often attracts dodgy buyers who end up bank in bankruptcy court quickly. Someone will end up buying the Space Museum (hopefully the organization that purchased the Air Museum) and the work will begin to attempt to get to profitability/sustainability again.

These museums need to make it or fail on their own accord and merits. McMinnville doesn't have the money to help here. I just hope the various organizations that have loaned aircraft to the Space Museum don't pull the items back to quickly. I hope they are patient and give the "yet to be determined" new owners a chance.

I cannot get over how bad both buildings look and how neglected the items are. Visitors don't respond well to that and there is a sense of doom and hopeless there. Docents don't seem too busy with the low visitor levels. Can someone please grab a broom and some cleaning supplies and get the building squared away?

(Regarding the Smiths - I will say it is absolutely bizarre to see so much of Michael Smith's personal items just floating around there. His boy scout uniforms and miscellaneous items, recreation of his childhood bedroom and various personal awards are not presented in a professional matter and are completely out of place).


The ghost of Del Smith plays a key role in this community’s lack of enthusiasm for the museum, in my opinion.

Regardless, I strongly disagree that the museum must be required to succeed or fail on its own — without possibility of public intervention or support. I understand the provincial default is to avoid spending public monies at nearly all costs but I believe this is a short-sighted and outdated way of thinking. As I said, many communities would go to great lengths to land a world-class aviation and space museum with an impressive waterpark and Imax theater.

If a public entity (the city, the county or a single-purpose regional partnership, created specifically for the project) acquired ownership of part or all of the museum campus and its contents, there’s no reason public bonds secured for the purpose could not be repaid relatively quickly from the museum’s own coffers. Corporate sponsorships could richly enhance this endeavor. Executed properly, public acquisition of the museum would pay for itself, enrich the public purse and generate significant revenue from tourism. It’s not like we’re talking about a theoretical resource — the museum and its amenities are already in place. To me, it’s a no-brainer but I’m not a McMinnville native and I realize things are done differently here.

Like just watching a world-class aviation and space museum die because we can’t be bothered to embrace creative solutions to save it.


Just to provide some context - let's go back in history a bit. The way the museums worked when Del Smith was alive was as follows - Smith built the musuem and put some of his own aircraft there. He had 747's flying all over the world and very strong ties with the US government. He would ask for aircraft he wanted, the Fed would say "go down to Davis Monthan and pick out whatever you want". Smith would send a plane, they'd pull one out of the desert and bring it to Mac. The huge resource Smith had was 40 or so volunteers with incredible aviation backgrounds who could get the planes in museum condition for free. (Smith did buy them lunch at the Space museum every day). Taxpayers paid nothing and the government got an aircraft into perfect show quality for free, and could take it back at any time. All that is over. My understanding is that most of the qualified volunteers are gone.

I agree that McMinnville should explore options to support the museum. I don't agree that such action is risk-free. Smith was pouring significant sums of money into both musuems. They never did well financially. The logic was all over the place - ticket prices too high, crazy charges for special events there, etc. It would be a mistake for the city to think that this is a resource that MUST be saved. Saving it involves risk to taxpayer money.

I for one don't think many folks hold anything against Evergreen for the connection to Del Smith. The musuems are what they are and their future should be determined by actual public interest. If they don't make it, large wineries will surely step in and go a different direction.


I don’t disagree with your overall picture, Oregonian. And I admit I tend toward optimism on the museum’s potential — nothing is risk-free for the public. But to let a resource such as this fail with no public attempt at rescue would be a monumental blunder, in my opinion.

The facilities are already in place. With adequate investment and proper stewardship, the museum’s reputation will be rebuilt, restoring its standing among lenders of artifacts. Properly curated, the museum’s collection will be maintained and grown at a reasonable and sustainable rate. In the long term — as our current growth continues and undeniable tourist economy expands — the museum should play a not-insignificant role in McMinnville’s identity as a destination.

In the short term, there will be hurdles, expenses and dismal numbers. But in the long term, the museum could thrive on a stable footing, properly stewarded, not only paying its way but also enriching the community, both culturally and fiscally.


Any predictions on how all of this will finally shake out? Ten years from now will everything be stabilized and running smoothly with a new owner? Or will the entire campus be shuttered? Or something in between? I sure hope we don't lose this awesome part of our community.


Wineries will step in and buy the buildings. The Spruce Goose will still be there (too big to move) but wine will be the focus - either production/distribution or tasting and selling cases. The theatre is a big question mark. I'm surprised that building hasn't been converted to office use and leased to local businesses. The IMAX theatre would be difficult to convert to something different. The water park's future is also a wildcard.

How ironic it is that Maria Smith planted grapes there, made horrendously poor tasting wine and one day there might be world class wine represented in the same space?


Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. It’s just a world-class air and space museum with an Imax theater and unique waterpark. Nothing important. We’re a simple community. We don’t need fancy stuff like museums — that crap is for losers or Californians.

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