Substantial progress has been forged on a high-profile expansion project at the RV/MH Hall of Fame (HOF) and Northern Indiana Event Center on the northeast side of Elkhart, Ind., including the construction of a 22,000-square-foot enclosed pavilion and the blacktopping of nearly a million square feet on the Hall’s east side.

Visible along the Indiana Toll Road, the expansion project is expected to create rental opportunities for the Hall among a wide spectrum of private and commercial rental clients in the RV, auto, boat and manufactured housing sectors – not to mention RV owner rallies accommodating as many as 300 to 350 units.

And, most agree, it should also amount to a windfall of sorts for the city of Elkhart thanks in large part to Thor Industries Inc., the publicly-held, Elkhart-based RV mega-builder that is funding the entire project after signing a multi-year lease agreement with the Hall.

“To me, it’s just incredible that Thor has stepped up to do the improvements here, which is a real win for Thor, but it’s also a real win for the Hall of Fame and for the community to have such a beautiful facility,” said HOF President Darryl Searer, adding that it facilitates the Hall’s three-year-old strategic growth plan, the next step of which entails a 60,000-square-foot event center adjacent to the Hall.

“They’re installing the heaters and air conditioners on the roof (of the pavilion) as we speak,” Searer noted on Friday (June 21). “And now they’re going as quickly as they can with a break in the weather to get more blacktopping done all around it. There’s a total of 27 acres that will be landscaped and blacktopped. And they probably have about a fourth of it done right now. But after today there’s going to be a lot of trucks coming with a lot of blacktop. So, they’re trying to make hay while the sun shines.”

As part of the lease agreement, Thor retains rights for exclusive use of the improved acreage and pavilion for a three-week period each fall so that it can continue using the HOF grounds – as it has for the past 10 years – during the Elkhart RV Open House.

The Open House this year is set for Sept. 23-27.

“We see the Open House as our main event,” stated Thor President and CEO Bob Martin. “So, with that, we reached an agreement with the Hall of Fame, and it’s basically to pave even more of the ground so that the Hall of Fame not only has parking for the Open House week, but also for other events. Many of us have been out there where they just don’t have enough parking. Even the RV Industry Power Breakfast is challenged with the amount of people that come in. So, the parking is one thing, and that also gives us a stable parking pad for our Open House product display.

“Other than the Open House week, that’s really the only time we’ve kind of laid claim (to the rally grounds and pavilion),” noted Martin. “Beyond that, Darryl Searer and the staff at the Hall of Fame will be able to use it for any event that they choose to host.”

Thor, in turn, will no longer have to rely on a huge tent with diesel generators for its Open House headquarters. “Well, anybody that was at the Open House last year, really the last couple years, could see that the ground there was not the best (because it was wet),” added Martin. “I took some time just walking through with a lot of dealers who gave me some honest feedback about the grounds that were there.

“Part of it was just the amount of rain that we had last year,” said Martin, who declined to release financial figures for the current expansion project, “And this year it would’ve been even worse. It just became hard to walk. So, we really reached a point that we had to decide what we wanted to do long term. And as I sat down with my group of presidents, we said, ‘You know what? This may be the year we make a long term commitment.’

“And the crux of that commitment is a real building,” said Martin. ”It’s not just a pole barn, but a heated and air-conditioned building with bathrooms, storage and a kitchen prep area so it’s much more convenient for everyone that comes to the show.”

While the project’s original completion date was August, weather-related delays have added about a month to that guesstimate so that the current target is early September – presumably before the 2019 Elkhart RV Open House.