Darryl Searer looks out at the 22,500-square-foot pavilion under construction just east of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and imagines the trade shows, RV rallies and other events the building could soon be hosting.

The South Bend Tribune reported that in just the past few months, Searer has been able to finally pay off the last of the $5.5 million debt the facility accumulated before he decided to come out of semi-retirement in 2012 to volunteer his time as president of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation.

And now the first phase of the hall’s expansion is well underway, thanks to a unique partnership with Elkhart-based Thor Industries, which agreed to oversee and pay for the expansion in exchange for its exclusive use for three weeks over the next 20 years.

“It’s a win, win, win,” said Searer, who was able to reverse the fortunes of the RV/MH Hall through donations from his many contacts in the RV industry as well as by expanding use of the 85,000-square-foot complex for weddings, business meetings, quinceañeras, clubs and other community organizations.

Thor gains use of the pavilion and the new 500-plus RV parking lot for the annual Dealer Open House, which has grown to become one of the biggest RV shows of the year, attracting dealerships from across the country.

The investment made sense for Thor because of the amount of money it has spent renting the grounds, tents, generators and other equipment for the annual show, which brings in about 2,000 dealerships, said Bob Martin, CEO of the company.

Despite the best efforts of the company, dealers complained about the sloggy conditions even though the company kept spreading load after load of mulch to absorb the water, and then Thor had to spend extra time trying to keep its models clean throughout the show, he explained.

“Thor won’t have to apologize to its dealers when we’re swamped with rain,” Searer agreed. “But it’s also a win for the hall and the community as well.”

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