ISC not able to keep Storytelling Center building

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 5, 2012 at 9:27 PM

The International Storytelling Center will not retain ownership of the $1.3 million storytelling building in downtown Jonesborough that has served as anchor of tourism for the town since its construction in 2004.

The board of governors of the nonprofit ISC organization, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late June, announced this week that its efforts to secure funding and negotiate an agreement with the USDA Office of Rural Development that would allow it to buy back the iconic storytelling center that prompted its bankruptcy have come up short.

“Although we have tried for many months to develop a way by which we could afford to retain the building, we have not been successful. Therefore, ISC is not in a financial position to be able to settle our debt with Rural Development-USDA and retain ownership of the center building,” the board said in a written statement released to local media.

David Glasgow, state director of communications for Rural Development, said Thursday the Rural Development office in Nashville is aware that the ISC board met on June 29 to discuss its options on the building but because of the July 4 holiday has not received notice of “what action the board decided to take or not to take.”

“We’re waiting to here from them,” Glasgow said. “The next step depends on a lot of things but at this point we don’t have any official word from them and we can’t do or say anything until we have that.”

According to Glasgow, ISC still owns the building at this point and Rural Development has not taken any action to sell the building to initiate foreclosure proceedings.

“At this point, they still own the center at the new $1.3 million price the (bankruptcy) court set,” Glasgow said. “I will say we do want to see the center be an important part of (Jonesboough) and the county and we are certainly not in any rush.”

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe, who has previously emphasized the town’s concern that the building be retained for use as a storytelling venue, said Thursday Jonesborough has been working closely with Rural Development for some time and in light of the ISC’s inability to purchase the facility, is developing a plan that will allow the town to purchase the building.

“We’ve been working closely with Rural Development to come to a purchase price and a deal by which we could acquire the property and potentially solve several problems at the same time,” Wolfe said.

“We received word last Friday that ISC had voted to not seek to retain ownership of the building. Their fundraising efforts over many months did not generate enough pledges or contributions to make the purchase a reality. Now that this chapter is closed, I would like to see the town of Jonesborough make a good business decision for our taxpayers regarding the future of this facility.”

According to the mayor, a proposal to be presented to the town’s board of Mayor and Aldermen at their next regular meeting on Monday includes a plan to incorporate the storytelling building with town’s participation in the state’s Main Street program and the town’s need for welcome center in the downtown district.

“We’ve been looking for space downtown to create a visitors’ center annex or a welcome center. We need additional space for an interactive kiosk to direct visitors to our merchants and restaurants. Quite frankly we need more seating and better use of some public space around the ISC building. And I sincerely believe we need to have our Main Street coordinator’s office headquartered downtown.

“We hope to bring a proposal to Monday night’s meeting that will address these many issues, solve the continuing problem of storytelling and the future of that facility, and be a good deal for the taxpayers of our town,” the mayor said.

Wolfe noted that Rural Development “has been a good friend to Jonesborough and to Washington County over the years” and said he believes the town will be able to negotiate a purchase price for the storytelling center that is less than the $1.3 million value of the building that was set by the bankruptcy court in March.

ISC’s bankruptcy reorganization plan includes an agreement from Rural Development to give ISC 30 days notice to vacate the building if Rural Development initiates a foreclosure sale.

ISC founder and President Emeritus Jimmy Neal Smith, who for many years served as ISC’s executive director, said at the time of the bankruptcy proceedings, if ISC has to vacate the storytelling center, it will move its operations to the historic Chester Inn next door to the ISC building where it has maintained its offices since the center’s opening.

In its written statement to the media, the ISC board of governors said, “We would like to express our appreciation to our many friends in the community, especially Rural Development-USDA, for their patience and understanding during this difficult process.”

“We shall continue to produce the National Storytelling Festival each year as well as other tourism-generating activities important to our organization, Jonesborough, and the surrounding region. Above all else, we believe the perpetuation of storytelling should be the central mission of our organization, reflecting our desire that storytelling continue to positively influence our culture and society for many generations to come.”

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