ELKHART, Ind. – The RV/MH Hall of Fame expansion project is well underway with the concrete floor and steel superstructure visible on the southeast corner of the existing facility at 21565 Executive Pkwy on Elkhart’s northeast side.
Work on the exterior of the building should be complete by late August, with work on the interior to continue when funding is secured.
“We’ve had a policy since I took over that we would not go in debt,” said Darryl Searer, Hall of Fame president. “We’ve got enough money to complete the exterior. We figure it’s a $3- to $3.2- million project. The building was $1 million, and we’ve got another $750,000 so we’ve got about $1.5 million to go. … We’re looking at a little bit of professional help to help us with the fundraising. Hopefully by the time we get the exterior done, we’ll have the funds to finish the interior and we can keep on going. If that happens, we won’t have it done by the Open House (late September Elkhart RV Open House), but we will have it done by the end of the year.”
The expansion will add 36,000 square feet of space to the Hall’s existing 100,000 square feet and cement its reputation as a regional convention destination, as well as ensure its financial independence and sustainability for the future, Searer said.
The new space will be outfitted with state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video technology and will include two large breakout rooms to accommodate the small groups that are often part of larger events.
When complete, the new, free-span room will be able to accommodate the entire RV Hall Supplier Show, held in conjunction with the annual Open House. Currently the 18,000 square-foot museum is emptied during the Supplier Show, supplementing the 17,000 square foot Ingram Hall to house as many suppliers as possible inside. Even then, outside exhibits are necessary, Searer said.
The new space also will make the Hall of Fame more attractive to existing and potential new convention clients.
“We already have people like Comic-Con and they’d like to grow their event to 10,000 people,” Searer said. “But it hasn’t been possible in the past. I think last time they had 7,000 people. Then you’ve got the (RV Industry) Power Breakfast (facilitated by RVBusiness Magazine.) The last two years it’s been sold out at a thousand people and the new facility will hold up to two thousand. And the acoustics are going to be great in there. You won’t have to worry about renting screens or any of the other audio and video things because it will all be there.”
Searer said demand already exists for the new facility, with Elkhart County Visitors Center officials telling him people are frequently coming into the county seeking to hold a large convention, but there are no suitable locations.
Beyond any new business, “out of our regular customers right now, we have five of them who would like to be in the new building,” Searer said. “What’s going to make it really nice is the overflow availability. Anybody who says they need more space can go right into Ingram Hall with a nice space back and forth.”
Searer sees a bright future for the Hall of Fame, especially when considering the development happening in adjacent areas.
“I think this whole area, what’s kind of neat about it, is it’s growing up,” he said. “We’ve got Amazon across the street, Lippert (the new Way Interglobal building), the new gas station. This is all new and growing out here. … We kind of feel like what we’re doing here with these 40 acres is kind of the shining star for the RV and the MH industries.”
Searer recalled something he said in 2019 during the dedication of the Peter Orthwein Center by THOR Industries. A lot of people talk about a “win-win situation,” he said. “This was four wins. It’s definitely a win for THOR. It’s a win the community. It’s a win for the suppliers, because it gives them a space and it’s a win for the Hall of Fame.”
The same logic applies to this project.
With regard to fundraising, Searer said the project really isn’t about “building a building. It’s about having a place that the community can use – an investment. It’s about people coming in from out of town and that’s going to bring more money into the area. And it’s about, ‘What’s our long-term plan?’ If we’re debt free and we’re going to have a decent cash flow every year, what do we want to give back to the community?” he said. “If you donate for the building, it’s not just a donation for a building. It’s an investment in the community.”
He added that since the Hall of Fame operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, “This is not helping anybody – financially – here. It’s not for any of the employees. It’s not for me. It’s for the community and I just think if we get that message out there it would help people understand what our mission is.”
He noted that a rise in the number of RVers on the road has translated into increased traffic through the Hall of Fame this year.
“Apples to apples, this year to last year, admissions so far this year through the museum are up 48%,” he said.
Searer asked anyone interested in helping the future development of the greater Elkhart Community and the RV/MH industries to consider donating to the project.
Donor levels are the following:
- Benefactor – $1,000,000 – Grants non-company naming rights to the building and memorialized forever within the building with an individual, large bronze plaque.
- Platinum – $250,000 – Memorialized forever within the facility with an individual, large bronze plaque.
- Diamond – $100,000 – Memorialized forever within the facility with an individual, medium bronze plaque.
- Gold – $50,000 – Memorialized forever with within the facility with an individual, small bronze plaque.
- Silver – $25,000 – Memorialized forever within the facility on a large bronze plaque listing all silver donors.
- Bronze – $10,000 – Memorialized forever within the facility on a medium bronze plaque listing all bronze donors.
- Friend of the Hall – $5,000 – Memorialized forever within the facility on a small bronze plaque listing all friend of the hall donors.
(Large plaques, 24 x 36 inches – medium plaques, 12 x 22 inches – small plaques, 10 x 12 inches.)