A bloomin’ gift: County offers plan to forgive Oregon Garden debt

January 2018 Posted in Other

By Paula Mabry

The Oregon Garden Foundation and the City of Silverton have been offered a fiscal bouquet of debt forgiveness by Marion County. Think of it as a retroactive $6.1 million tourism grant out of  Oregon Lottery funds.

The proposal, if accepted by all parties, would free the foundation of indebtedness to the county, advance the city’s recovery of invested sewer fund dollars by decades, and remove the county from future obligations and responsibilities for the Oregon Garden.

Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano, in presenting the proposal to the city council Jan. 8,  said those looking back on the history of Silverton will point to Jan. 8 as “a special night.”

Brentano said in making the proposal, the county had some expectations or conditions.

From Silverton, the county is asking a commitment to continue giving the majority of its room tax or TOT funds to the foundation, which will in turn use them to pay off remaining debt.

He said the county would also like the city to subordinate its financial claims to the other individuals and organizations waiting for repayment. In subsequent discussion it was estimated that under the county’s proposal, even with subordination, the city would be repaid in 7.5 years rather than in the original 70-plus years.

From Moonstone Resort, which has had the contract to manage the Oregon Garden since 2006, the proposal looks for continued payments to the foundation to match the TOT amount. Those proceeds come from royalties, memberships, events and rentals.

Moonstone will also be asked to continue providing meeting and office space for the foundation board and its staff. Moonstone would continue to manage the garden.

The foundation, according to the proposal, would continue to hold the 99-year lease from Silverton for the garden site. It would commit to a good faith effort to pay off the remaining $2.2 million in debt.

With the restructuring, new donations to the foundation would not have to go toward the repayment of debt, but could be directed toward garden enhancements.

Calling the proposal “a fantastic offer,” in-coming foundation board chair Mary McNatt said, “If this debt is lifted what is left is manageable.”

She said the foundation by-laws have been revised to accommodate the garden coming out from county receivership. The new rules also expand the board from five to seven members.

McNatt added this would bring about an opportunity to rebuild bridges with the Oregon Association of Nurseries.  “This was their baby” in the beginning, she noted. Overall, council response was positive.

“Marion County has been an amazing partner of the Oregon Garden. This is a generous offer,” Mayor Kyle Palmer said.

“This is a beautiful gift,” Councilor Dana Smith agreed. She noted Brentano’s comment that the county would like to have an agreement wrapped by July 1 seemed reasonable.

Councilors did have questions on the flow of funds to the foundation both from the city and Moonstone, but by the end of discussion concluded those could be reviewed later.

By consensus the council agreed to subordinate debt repayment to the city and to continue to direct 60 percent of the city TOT funds to the foundation. They directed City Manager Christy Wurster to participate in negotiations on the final plan.

In other matters, the council postponed action on a downtown core smoking ban, preferring to see if the city’s Environmental Committee and downtown businesses could come up with a solution to street smokers and litter.    

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