James Woodworth Millegan can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see what he sees so clearly.
A state-of-the-art equestrian center sprawling out over thousands of acres. A resort on the site complete with all the amenities, including a hotel, convention center and restaurants. Arenas, polo fields and an equestrian course. Even an airfield to fly the prized horses in.
There will be jobs, hundreds of them. And money, lots of it. There will also be a certain prestige that is associated with prominent equestrian events.
“Douglas County hasn’t grown due to what’s happened to the timber industry,” said Millegan, 63, who goes by the initials J.W. “This will bring an international presence to Douglas County. There will be people who come to Douglas County that will never have heard of it otherwise.”
Millegan has been trying to get takers on his big pitch for a decade now. Back in 2012 he was trying to convince investors, local officials and federal regulators of his vision. Back then it was called Wallace Bridge and slated for 325 acres on land near the city of Sheridan in Polk County. A fight over 190 acres of wetlands eventually scuttled that deal, Millegan said.
Next came Northern California. This time the plans were even bigger than Wallace Bridge. Millegan proposed putting his Pegasus Equestrian Center on 1,500 acres near the city of Yreka, just south of the Oregon border on Interstate 5. He was still trying to win over investors and local officials as recently as January 2020. But like Wallace Bridge, the project ran into problems and was scrapped.
Millegan blames that on the coronavirus, explaining that the uncertainty of the pandemic scared off some investors.
His newest potential goldmine is Pegasus Equestrian Resort & Venue, slated for over 2,800 acres near Metz Hill Road west of Interstate 5 in Douglas County. Millegan and his two sons, Drew and Quinn, floated the idea last year and gave a formal presentation before the county planning commission last month. The Millegans, who live in McMinnville, are scheduled to appear before the planning commission again on Thursday to talk about their proposal.
The owners of the proposed development are Drew and Quinn Millegan, whose company, Millegan Brothers LLC, is based in McMinnville.
This development, with a price tag of $120 million over five years, is even more grandiose than the previous two. Plans call for five indoor arenas, outdoor grass and sand arenas, a dedicated combined driving course, an equestrian cross-country course and four full-size grass polo fields for equestrian competitions. The project also features a $35 million, 150-room hotel resort and spa facility with restaurants, meeting rooms and convention facilities.
With that comes jobs, the Millegans say — 800 at the job site during construction and 500 employed at the venue once it is up and running. Pegasus will also bring in $130 million to the area in annual revenue once it is up and running, according to one study.
This time, J.W. Millegan insists he’s only an advisor on the project — “a free consultant” is what Drew Millegan calls him; “a retired father” is how Millegan refers to himself — and his two sons are the main principles.
Drew and Quinn are principle partners in Millegan Brothers LLC, and their signatures are listed on the application with the county for the Pegasus Equestrian Resort & Venue development.
“My brother and I are the ones that founded the project and we own all the funds,” Drew Quinn said. “J.W. is an expert advisor, but in essence, he’ doesn’t have any ownership in this project.”
But J.W. Millegan is a large presence as the family pushes forward with Pegasus. He is the director of business development for Pegasus, and is often the one pitching the project — during two phone interviews with the Millegans, J.W. did most of the talking. He also handled the bulk of the presentation before the planning commission on April 15.
There is a reason the Millegans might seek to downplay J.W.’s role in the current Pegasus development — the legal and financial morass he is dealing with. Those troubles have been so well documented that J.W. Millegan brings them up in interviews with the media even before he is asked about it.
Millegan has been in the securities industry for 40 years and formerly owned and operated J.W. Millegan, Inc., a commission-based investment advisory business serving clients primarily in Portland and Salem.
In 2016, Millegan shut down the firm. He filed for bankruptcy the following year.
In November 2019, Millegan was hit with a 13-count indictment filed in federal court charging him with investment fraud and tax evasion. Millegan was accused of something called churning, which involves buying and selling securities for clients’ accounts in order to generate bogus commissions.
Federal authorities said Millegan generated more than $2.5 million in trading commissions while he cost investors more than $4.3 million in unrealized investment gains. The case was investigated by the FBI and the IRS criminal investigation division, and at one point federal officials raided his house at gunpoint and took his client files.
Millegan also is accused of not paying more than $3.3 million in taxes between July 2006 and September 2016. Authorities said he transferred funds to hidden bank accounts and filed false financial statements to conceal millions of dollars in commissions.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.
Millegan said he has been advised by his attorney not to discuss his case. He did acknowledge owing $1 million in taxes — not the $3.3 million the IRS claims — but said that in itself is not a crime.
Millegan also said he expects to be fully exonerated.
“I pleaded not guilty and I will win,” he said. “I have never in my 40 years in the financial field been charged with a security violation, I’ve never been sued or anything. That should tell you something. A lot of people get accused that are innocent.”
Millegan said he is up front about his legal issues, so everyone involved with Pegasus — including investors — knows about it, yet continues to support the development. Most importantly, his legal issues have no bearing on the project, Millegan said.
“It has no impact. It’s not part of the criteria to be approved, and it’s the boys’ own money here,” he said. “There is no hidden agenda.”
LEARN FROM MISTAKES
J.W. Millegan said the idea for an equestrian venue dates back at least 15 years. But his interest in being involved with projects like this date back much further than that.
While in high school he started attending land use meetings because he found them interesting. He picked up an interest in development from his family, where it was considered a noble and rewarding endeavor, Millegan said.
“There’s a strong conviction about land use planning and community that I was raised with, and we like making money,” He said.
Pegasus is the result of years of envisioning such a project and a lot of trial and error. J.W. and his sons have learned from each effort to turn the vision into reality, they said.
“This project has always made a lot of sense and it makes more sense the longer we look at it,” Quinn Millegan said. “Finding the right team, the right area, has been a challenge. I don’t look on it as if we failed at the other sites. We are farther along now then we’ve ever been. We never went through the planning process like this before.”
Or as J.W. puts it: “It’s just like looking at stocks. We look at hundreds of companies and we look longer term. Good things take a while,” he said. “Sometimes you find out by doing. The boys have learned it’s OK to make mistakes along the way.”
That learning curve has sharpened the vision for the project and got it to the point it is today, the Millegans said. For example, the website for the Pegasus project here is largely the same one used for the project that was pitched in Yreka, with a few updates.
Likewise, much of the economic data on the benefits the development would bring to the region come from a 2013 study that was done as part of the old Wallace Bridge project.
And many of the talking points used to pitch Pegasus here — including how the family searched for the perfect site for 10 years before finally finding it — are largely the same as ones used for the previous two developments.
But this time, the Millegans are convinced they have the right project for the right site. County policy requires that destination resorts that meet the basic criteria, which Pegasus has, be granted preliminary approval, plus any conditions that might be tacked on.
The county planning department has said the project meets all the requirements and recommended it be approved. The planning commission is scheduled to hear more testimony on the proposal Thursday, and could vote on it next month.
Once the final approval is granted, ground could be broken late next year and the Pegasus Equestrian Resort and Venue could open in late 2024 or early 2025.
“There’s a huge need and it’s very difficult to do this,” J.W. Millegan said. “It’s not like just opening a barn.”