ELKHART — Almost a year after the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum outlined its financial dilemma to industry leaders and elected officials, the institution announced a debt restructuring agreement that will provide long-term financial stability.
The Hall of Fame owes $4 million to 1st Source Bank and the family of the late Robert “Boots” Ingram for the money it borrowed to build a new wing onto the main structure and to purchase the David Woodworth collection of pre-World War II recreational vehicles.
Those financial obligations became so overwhelming in early 2011 that the RV/MH Heritage Foundation appealed to the RV and manufactured housing industries for an immediate infusion of cash or the Hall of Fame would shut down in a matter of weeks.
Then on March 16, officials from the Hall of Fame and its board of directors outlined its dilemma and planned solution to industry and local powerbrokers. At that time, no one came forward with offers of assistance but the institution got a little reprieve when the GO RVing campaign agreed to appropriate the $200,000 it pays for its exhibit in the museum and the Crean Foundation pledged $100,000.
On Wednesday, the Hall of Fame announced a restructuring plan that will extend the loans’ due dates and enable the organization to reduce its monthly payments. Specifically, 1st Source has significantly lowered the interest rate and restructured its agreement while the Ingram family forgave overdue interest obligations and agreed to forgo any payments or interest on its loan until the bank is fully paid in 2016.
Darryl Searer, the newly appointed president and chief operating officer of the RV/MH Hall of Fame, did not return a call seeking comment about the new financial agreements. However in a press release, Searer stated the restructuring is only the first step.
“We are now going to go out to the other pioneers and leaders who have built their lives around this industry and ask them to follow the inspiration of Boots Ingram and his family and make significant long-term contributions to this wonderful treasure that showcases who we are and how we help Americans discover their country,” Searer said.
While the Hall of Fame has negotiated some breathing room with its creditors, it still has an outstanding sewer bill with the city of Elkhart.
Mayor Dick Moore said Wednesday that the city held off pursuing payment of the estimated $90,000 bill until the Hall gained financial solvency. Now that the institution appears to be on firmer ground, he wants to start working toward a settlement.
“I have an obligation to the taxpayers of the city of Elkhart to go after any money that is unpaid,” Moore said.
The mayor emphasized the city does not want to do anything to harm the RV industry and it is willing to consider granting some concessions but it wants the obligation met. To achieve that, he believes the two parties will likely have to go to court to resolve their dispute.
With the financial agreement in place, board chairman Bill Garpow painted a bright future for the institution.
“The RV/MH Hall of Fame will live on,” he stated in a press release. “Our glorious building will remain open for years to come. Our history will continue to be preserved. It’s a day of triumph and celebration for the RV and manufactured housing industries, a day made possible by the continued generosity of the Ingrams.”
In addition to rewriting the terms of their loan, the Ingram family is offering a “Let’s Pay off the Bank” matching gift. For all individual contributions raised before the end of August, the family will match up to $100,000.
Searer stated that donations will be used to keep the museum open and staffed, to maintain the property, the exhibits and library, and to promote the Hall of Fame to get more visitors as well as bookings for events in the conference space.
“Contributions are greatly needed,” Searer stated. “Those who contribute can be assured their money will be used smartly and their generosity recognized.”