The RV/MH Hall of Fame continues to open its doors every day, playing host to the streams of RVers eager to view the industry’s past and present depicted in the array of eye-catching and instructive displays.
That in itself is an accomplishment, says Tom McNulty, who took the reins as executive director of the financially strapped museum around eight months ago. “When I first came on board, there were people that were saying we wouldn’t last two months,” he said. “But we’re still here, and our hope is we’ll be here for the long run.
“There are some good things happening and actually our cash flow is better than it’s been in a couple of years. Attendance during the summer was 100 to 150 people a day and we are seeing greater returns from our convention center.”
McNulty is by no means trying to mask the financial quandary that fostered those doomsday predictions. The hall, which officially opened in March of 2007 on the northeast side of Elkhart, Ind., continues to run in the red, exacerbated by the country’s economic collapse and a resulting accumulation of debt that came to a head in the past year.
“We are still in the throes of negotiating our debt,” McNulty said. “At times we think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but then someone turns off the switch. It’s very frustrating to say the least.”
Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) and chairman for the Hall of Fame, added, “Because of the economy, it’s been very difficult over the past four years to raise the types of funds that we need to meet our obligations.”
Three sources in particular are holding the bulk of outstanding bills:
• First Source Bank, which established a $900,000 line of credit for the hall.
• Historian David Woodworth, who sold a portion of his prized RV collection to the hall for $750,000.
• The family of deceased Teton Homes founder Boots Ingram, who made an interest bearing loan of $1.1 million to secure Woodworth’s collection and an interest-free, five-year $2 million loan for construction costs to house the vehicles.
“We negotiated those loans in an era when the economy, and the industry, was still strong,” Garpow said. “In hindsight, if we had been able to foresee how bad the economy would get, the board probably wouldn’t have accepted the funding.”
But Garpow says there is movement toward potentially resolving the hall’s debt. “I can’t be specific, but we are having an involved conversation with the Ingram family,” he said. “We sent a proposal and are expecting a response very quickly. Their answer will obviously dictate how we operate moving forward.”
There is also an ongoing discussion with the Go RVing Coalition, which has annually paid the hall $200,000 in return for the high-profile marketing services provided by the facility.
“The Go RVing Coalition honored its commitment through 2011,” said McNulty. “They made an offer for 2012, but we were disappointed. We are currently working with (RVIA President) Richard Coon, who has been very supportive, and are putting together a proposal as to why the commitment should be higher. I have every reason to believe it will be honored.”
Another source for optimism is the heightened marketing efforts for the hall’s convention center. Susan Weaver was brought on board in September to spearhead efforts and McNulty reported that there are substantial commitments on the books for the coming year.
“The conference center is much more active,” he said. “People are starting to find out just what a great facility we have for all sorts of events. I think having the RV Open House brought a lot of attention and the rest is primarily word of mouth. Looking ahead to 2012, we already have $100,000 in bookings.”
But perhaps the biggest boost for the hall would be a growing economy.
“There have been some signs that things are getting better,” Garpow noted. “The good news is that it’s hard to find anybody that doesn’t say we need the hall, that we need to support it, that it’s a good endeavor. That tells me that if people start feeling better about their situation, then our situation could also improve.”