Storytelling Center begins to emerge from bankruptcy

Sue Guinn Legg • Jun 25, 2012 at 10:25 PM

The International Storytelling Center has been granted a final decree of emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is in negotiations of with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development for a resolution that will allow ISC to remain in the iconic storytelling building in the Jonesborough historic district that prompted its bankruptcy.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Marcia Phillips Parsons signed the final decree in ISC’s bankruptcy proceedings on Thursday based on the commencement of payments outlined in its reorganization plan and the lack of any further contested matters.

While the reorganization plan includes a stipulation that if Rural Development pursues a foreclosure sale to recoup its losses on the building at 116 W. Main St. it must give ISC 30 days notice to vacate the building, ISC board members said Monday they are in negotiations for a resolution that will allow ISC to remain in the building. The ISC board will meet on Friday and is expected to discuss its options for retaining the building.

ISC’s Finance Committee Chairman Dr. Bill Kennedy said the ISC is researching all available sources of funding to purchase the building from Rural Development but it is still without funds to make an offer and without any other viable solutions.

“We’re still working on a solution,” Kennedy said. “Our goal of course is to have the building available for storytelling but we are not in a position to make an offer at this point. We are looking at funding resources, all possible funding solutions, any support public or private. But at this point we haven’t been able to work out a solution that is viable,” Kennedy said.

“Even if we get notice to vacate, the first thing we’ll want to do is negotiate and negotiations are ongoing.”

David Glasgow, Rural Development’s state public relations director, said Monday the office can not comment on any negotiations with ISC other than to say it is “aware of how important the building is to the community.”

According to Glasglow, ISC continues to owe Rural Development the $1.319 million value of the building set by Parsons during the bankruptcy court proceedings rather than the $2.6 million debt on the building it defaulted on prior to filing bankruptcy.

Asked if Rural Development had offered the building to ISC for amount less than $1.3 million, Glasgow said, “Beyond that ($1.319 million) number, everything else would just be speculation until there’s a hard number on the table.”

In a letter to the ISC board members shared with the Johnson City Press on Saturday, Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said it was his understanding that Rural Development has offered the building to ISC for “$1.1 million or less,” and that some ISC board members “have doubts about the need for the storytelling center in Jonesborough.”

Wolfe’s letter outlines Jonesborough’s history of support for ISC and strongly urges the board “to continue your commitment to fulfilling the vision for the storytelling center, and thus your commitment to the partnership with Jonesborough and the region.”

His letter states, “In addition to a capital outlay note we initially issued to support the storytelling center, the use of two acres of town property to support the center grounds, and the leadership of the town in obtaining over $3.5 million of grants to support the storytelling center project and grounds,” the town incurred more than $100,000 in expenses for spring and fall productions of “I Am Home in 2011,” a story-based Community Performance International production in Jonesborough that “was supposed to be cost-shared equally between ISC and the town.”

Wolfe advised the board members the town is currently exploring Tax Increment Financing and re-working an Appalachian Regional Commission grant and other financial initiatives to fund several projects. The town is looking into the purchase and renovation of the Jackson Theater located near the ISC building in order to provide a larger venue for storytelling, renovating the former Booker T. Washington School for use as a performing arts center that will provide another facility for storytelling classes, workshops and initiatives and working with Washington County Schools, East Tennessee State University, EPIC Evolutions and the Mary B. Martin Performing Arts Program on storytelling related initiatives in Jonesborough schools.

“As Jonesborough’s Mayor, I strongly believe that the continued use of the International Storytelling Center building for storytelling activities and as the home of ISC is critical to the future of Jonesborough. I also believe it is just as critical to the future and continued existence of ISC,” Wolfe wrote.

“ISC has received much community support through the years. I strongly urge you to continue your commitment to fulfilling the vision for the storytelling center, and thus your commitment to the partnership with Jonesborough and the region.”

Wolfe said Monday $1.1 million is Rural Development’s “absolute” lowest offer for ISC to avoid a foreclosure auction and if the board decides not to pursue the building, the town will “have to look at our options and determine if our cooperation with storytelling will change.”

“We are still supportive of them but we may have to do something a little different,” Wolfe said. “Until they say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the building, we will let them take some action then we will do something ourselves. ... I want to know what their intentions are.”

Asked if the town will attempt to purchase the building if the ISC does not, Wolfe said, while any purchases are up to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, “We have discussed in meetings and I have discussed in the media not letting the building sell into the hands of someone who may use it for any purpose other than storytelling.”

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