Newport Airport Committee members Thursday were briefed on the news that a decision is probably a few months away as to whether the Tillamook Air Museum will relocate to Astoria or to Newport. Mayor Mark McConnell says the city has been talking with the Jack Erickson Family who owns the aircraft and who would like to create a new facility to better display their considerable warbird collection along with a cafe, gift shop and possibly some meeting or conference facilities.
McConnell said the Newport Airport could accommodate such a move, but would require some water and sewer piping which he said would be minor in the early phases. He said “If the Museum helped to trigger new businesses at the airport then further improvements would be required.” But he also pointed out that such a museum would be quite a tourist draw. McConnell quoted museum officials in Tillamook reporting that the museum is averaging 70,000 visitors a year.
McConnell said negotiations continue with the Erickson Family. He said they have three years left on their lease with the Port of Tillamook which owns the old WWII blimp hanger that the aircraft are stored in. The building is in need of some very expensive repairs and upgrading, and many say the collection deserves a more compelling display area than what they have today. The family has indicated that they would like to build a new facility either in Astoria or Newport for around $6,000,000.
Again, negotiations are still ongoing, with a possible decision on whether it’s Newport or Astoria coming within three to four months according to Mayor McConnell. If the decision is to move the Air Museum to Newport, McConnell said it would take the better part of three years to make a place for it at the airport, build it, and have it open for business.
Meanwhile at the Port of Tillamook, Port Manager Michele Bradley paints a different picture. It would appear that the Air Museum may have been looking in earnest at Astoria and Newport, but now recent developments may have changed that. Bradley says the Port of Tillamook brought in the services of State Senator Betsy Johnson who helped arrange to award an economic development and marketing grant that would involve the Air Museum moving to another port site about 3/4 of a mile to the west which is much closer to Highway 101. Bradely said ODOT is also coming up with a new Highway 101 access plan for the site. The Air Museum would build their new facility at that location, very close to a new Pelican Brew Pub complex. The Pelican would be relocating from Pacific City and launching a new craft brewery, pub and restaurant near the Air Museum. Other tourism-based businesses are also being explored for the site. Bradley says the new development and marketing grant is contingent on the Air Museum staying in Tillamook. A letter of intent to do just that has been given to the Air Museum for their review and expected signature, according to Bradley. Bradley said the port and the Air Museum came through what she called a “rough patch” but she believes they have come to constructive terms, with a strong possibility that the Air Museum will become a strategic component to the mix.
Bradley added that the port has been working on coordinating a package of tourist attractions including the Tillamook Cheese Company, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, the Pelican Brew Pub and the Tillamook Air Museum. Bradley says she can’t speak for the Air Museum but hopes that they follow through with the interest they’ve expressed to be part of the plan.