LOS ANGELES -- A small tax-exempt bond sale in Washington State has provided the last piece of a financing puzzle, enabling a nonprofit organization to build a museum that also provides an. economic boost in a hard-hit timber community.

The $2.25 million financing was completed last week through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission's Streamlined Tax-Exempt Placement Program, which is commonly known as STEP. The program permits nonprofit organizations with small borrowing needs to obtain the lower interest rates available in the tax-exempt market.

Bond proceeds will help finance the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, a $10 million historical center and museum in Stevenson, Wash. A $5 million state matching grant also helped pay for the project, along with other locally raised funds. The center will provide explanations of the scenic and geologic areas in the Columbia Gorge region, and also will feature a cultural, social, and economic history of the area, including background on the logging and fishing industries.

Stevenson is located on the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam, which is east of Portland, Ore.

The project is another step to diversify the local economy, which has been hard hit by the depressed timber industry, according to a release describing the center. The center is expected to open in the spring of 1995 and employ at least six full-time staff. The bonds were sold to the U.S. Bank of Oregon in a private placement. U.S. Bank took the fees it would usually collect for a private placement and donated them to the center, which local officials said made the transaction even more affordable.

"By participating in the STEP program, we are able to make a sound financial investment for the bank," Mark Hudspeth, vice president of public finance for U.S. Bank of Oregon, said in a statement. "And by donating our fees, we support a self-help project in one of the hardest hit and depressed timber communities in Washington State."

U.S. Bank officials declined to provide details about the financing, citing the private placement nature of the transaction. A housing commission spokeswoman said the interest rate on the bonds was 6.75%, with a single maturity date in the year 2000.

The Washington State housing commission provides below-market financing to buy, build, or preserve affordable housing and nonprofit cultural and social service facilities. The commission builds partnerships with the private sector to raise capital, thereby furthering such social and economic objectives at no cost to Washington State taxpayers.

"Without the commission, we could not have met our scheduled completion date or opened the center on time -- the commission's program saved us time and money," Sharon Tiffany, executive director of the Skamania County Historical Society and the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, said in the release.

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