Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville. ##Photo by Rusty Rae

Stoller Saves Evergreen

Winery owner acquires air and space museum properties

By Nicole Montesano

Bill Stoller, owner of Stoller Family Estate and founder of a global employment agency, has purchased Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum property in a $9.5 million bankruptcy liquidation of the home of one of McMinnville’s top attractions.

The sale includes the space building, event center, water park, a site initially intended for a hotel, and surrounding farmland.

The official new owner, McMinnville Properties LLC, is taking control at the end of a two-year, tangled process that included multiple federal court hearings, negotiations with Yamhill County tax authorities and deals with lienholders.

The museum, built by Evergreen Aviation founder Del Smith in 1999 and 2000 remains an icon for the region.

“Like him or dislike him, Del Smith had a wonderful vision for putting the air museum and space museum, that whole campus, together,” Stoller said. “I knew Del, and I think that carrying on what his original vision was, I think, is a wonderful thing.”

Museum director John Rasmussen says he’s relieved a federal bankruptcy judge approved the deal this week and excited about the future prospects ahead, which may include construction of a hotel and additions to the vineyards on the 285-acre property a few miles southeast of downtown.

The museum is an independent nonprofit that leases its buildings.

“It’s finally done,” Rasmussen said. “It will be absolutely done on the 14th, but there’s nothing between now and then that stops it. It’s just paperwork.”

Stoller, who grew up in Dayton, primarily resides in Oklahoma but maintains a home in Dayton and remains active in the county, where several of his siblings and adult children still live.

“My roots are in Yamhill County and specifically in our vineyard,” he said.

The Stoller Family Estate in the Dundee Hills, a former family turkey farm, is one of the county’s largest vineyards, at nearly 400 acres, and is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Stoller says he wouldn’t be making the investment in the museum property if he didn’t believe it was likely to pay off, but he also wants to preserve the museum for future generations.

“It’s preservation of the history; it’s preservation of the people who took part in piloting those planes and in working in the museum, and all that they’ve done,” he said.

The museum, home to the iconic Spruce Goose wooden airplane, has had a turbulent history since Smith’s 2014 death at the age of 84, including two bankruptcy filings by its former landlords. Rasmussen says he looks forward to peace and stability. He might even finally be able to hire a museum director to take his place, having agreed to fulfill the position for just a few months. That was two years ago.

But he isn’t planning to step down yet. With the sale, the museum campus will be in the hands of Maine businessman George Schott on the aviation and theater side, and Stoller on the other.

The museum plans to assume handling some of the events at the center, while Stoller’s company will run the waterpark after some significant upgrades and improvements.

In time, Rasmussen says, he hopes Stoller will buy out Schott, bringing the entire property under a single ownership.

“This is one piece of the stability puzzle,” he said.” I’d like to have it all the way done. When it gets to the point of one landlord, then I would feel better about stepping down and somebody else running it. So I’m going to stick around for that.”

Stoller says he wants to bring stability to the museum for a very long time.

“I’m a 200-year thinker in terms of what I’ve tried to do, and so as to the long run, I look at trying to preserve things as much as I can. I’m very much of a conservationist, a preserver, a maintainer, if you will,” he said.

Wayne Marschall, who sits on the museum’s board of directors and is president of The Stoller Group, a management company that holds Stoller’s ownership interests in his various businesses, called the assessment accurate.

“I think we view it as a restart and a new day for the community, for Yamhill County,” he said. “Bill mentioned stability and preservation. That’s something I think the community can latch on to. The 200-year vision that Bill talks about, we’re not just investors. We’re part of the community and want to make sure the community is well represented on the campus.”

Already, discussions are flourishing about how to attract new exhibits and enhance the regional and national appeal of the museum, Rasmussen said.

First on the agenda, Marschall says, is to return the water park “to its original glory.”

Rasmussen says evidence of the company’s commitment started even before the sale was approved by the judge, when Stoller obtained permission from the trustee to plant spring barley and prune existing grapevines.

“It is nice to look out front and see crops planted again,” Rasmussen said. “If you’ve driven past it the last year and seen all the weeds growing, it looked abandoned. It’s nice to see activity again in a positive way.”



Web Design and Web Development by Buildable