I reached Dick Holbert at Central Flying about news of the Aerospace Center’s demise. Holbert was a driving force in creation of the center and still a member of the board of the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society that operates the center.
In response to the question of whether a revival of the museum was likely, he said, “Realistically, I don’t think so.” Its failure is the product, he said, of “a cascade of economic bad news.”
He said the center had tried a number of ideas over the years that offered some glimmer of hope for increasing support — a public school, the planetarium, a venture with Pulaski Tech — but they “didn’t come to successful conclusion. We’ve just run out of ideas.”
He said the center now has nine employees, only three full-time. They’ll continue to work for the foreseeable future because “it will take a while to shut things down in an orderly fashion.”
Holbert said the Miller collection of aviation materials and the airplane collection likely will be liquidated to pay off outstanding debts. He said about $66,000 is owed to Regions Bank for a construction loan on a postal facility that continues to operate at the site under a lease running through 2015. Another $33,000 or so is owed to various vendors.
He said he hoped the liquidation of assets — the collection is valued on the tax form at roughly $3 million — will be sufficient to satisfy those obligations and pay off his $2.5 million in lending (a figure likely higher when 2010 books close). He confirmed my earlier reading of tax returns that he'd been advancing money to the center to cover operating losses.
It’s a sad decision, Holbert said. But he commented: “We’d like to think it worked for 15 years. It was a benefit to the community for 15 years, but it was just not sustainable going forward.”