Big changes planned for the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum campus

Inside the Evergreen Space Museum, part of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum campus that will expand under new part-owners Falls Event Center LLC, which bought the space museum, Wings and Waves water park and land on the McMinnville property. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Inside the Evergreen Space Museum, part of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum campus that will expand under new part-owners Falls Event Center LLC, which bought the space museum, Wings and Waves water park and land on the McMinnville property. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

By Jamie Hale | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Between the Spruce Goose, an indoor water park and sprawling vineyards, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum already has a lot to offer. But now partially under new ownership, the McMinnville museum might have a lot more to brag about.

A hotel, amphitheater and campground are among the big ideas in the works at the Evergreen campus, which will host a grand opening of its new event center spaces on Wednesday. All of it comes courtesy of Falls Event Center LLC, a Utah-based company that purchased several museum buildings and a sizable chunk of land during a bankruptcy sale last summer.

Local managers with the Falls Event Center have said that no big changes are coming to the museum buildings themselves - though the company now owns both the space museum building and the Wings & Waves Waterpark - as the expansion plans are focused primarily on the surrounding land.

"It was very important to keep the integrity" of the museum, general manager Lea Turner-Betts said. "It's a very special place."

After last year's deal, the Falls Event Center owns the space museum, water park, and additional property around the campus, including a large chunk of land. The Evergreen Museum still maintains ownership over the aviation museum and movie theater, and operates as an independent tenant at the space museum, where it's under a 30-year, rent-free lease. 

The vision of Falls Event Center is driven by its owner, Klamath Falls native Steve Down. He preaches "cause capitalism," a philosophy that puts a big emphasis on giving back to the community. One of Down's earliest companies was Even Stevens Sandwiches, which gives one sandwich to a local nonprofit for every sandwich sold (a shop may be coming to McMinnville soon).

That same philosophy will be maintained at Evergreen, where time in the new event center spaces - designed with wedding parties and conferences in mind - will be donated to nonprofits when not rented out, Turner-Betts said.

But the Falls Event Center is also focused on expansion. Outside the museum buildings, the company has already converted an old chapel into "the lodge," removing pews to make a more general space for big gatherings. Crews are also working on expanding Evergreen's vineyards around the building, making use of the sprawling green space that the company also purchased.

It's in that green space that the big changes would come.

Falls Event Center is in the beginning stages of reviving a bold idea: a four-star, 130-room hotel at the center of the campus. Work could begin on the hotel by the end of 2018, managers said, but plans for a campground and an amphitheater at the back of the property could come as soon as this summer, as the company considers hosting an event for the total solar eclipse in August 2017.

If all those visions are realized, Evergreen could become a hugely popular destination for weddings, birthday parties, music festivals and more.

"The vision of our founder here is to make (Evergreen) the number-one destination in Oregon," said Dan Barton, sales director for the Falls Event Center in McMinnville.

For now, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum will look as it always has, with a few new spaces to host events. Diehard visitors should have no cause for concern, because while Evergreen may change, the museums will still be the heart of the campus.

In other words, don't expect the Spruce Goose to go anywhere.


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