Elkhart RV museum reaches debt-restructuring deal

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — An Elkhart museum that charts the changing styles and innovations of the recreational vehicle and manufactured home industries has reached a debt-restructuring agreement giving its operators more time to pay off millions of dollars in loans.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum's restructuring plan was announced Wednesday, nearly a year after officials with the Elkhart institution appealed to the RV and manufactured housing industries for donations, warning the site was at risk of closing within weeks.

The Elkhart Truth reported (http://bit.ly/yDmPXC ) Thursday that the hall of fame and museum owes $4 million to 1st Source Bank and the family of the late Robert "Boots" Ingram. That money was borrowed to build a new wing onto the main structure and to purchase a collection of pre-World War II recreational vehicles.

Darryl Searer, the group's newly appointed president and chief operating officer, said in a statement that the restructuring plan is only the first step to putting the RV showplace on firmer financial ground.

He said the next step is seeking donations from the industry to improve the museum's financial footing and protect "this wonderful treasure that showcases who we are and how we help Americans discover their country."

Those 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.

The museum's restructuring plan will extend its 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.

In addition to rewriting the terms of their loan, the Ingram family also is offering to match all individual contributions, up to $100,000, raised before the end of August.

The Elkhart building's museum portion features vintage RV and manufacturing house units from 1913 to the 1970s, while the hall of fame showcases more recent models.

With the financial agreement now in place, board chairman Bill Garpow the future looks brighter for the institution.

"Our glorious building will remain open for years to come. Our history will continue to be preserved," he said in a news release.

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 the city had held off pursuing payment of the estimated $90,000 bill until the museum gained financial solvency. Now that it 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.

___

Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.etruth.com