The third time was not the charm for the town of Jonesborough’s attempt to secure grant funding for construction of a visitors’ center annex in the downtown historic district.
Jonesborough’s third consecutive application for a $1.3 million enhancement grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to build the annex at the current site of the Christopher Taylor cabin was denied earlier this month.
Town leaders had hoped the grant application submitted last fall and a corresponding letter-writing campaign to the governor’s office advocating for the project would allow them to begin work on the project this year.
Recommended in tourism and marketing studies conducted several years ago by Destination Development, the visitors’ center annex was planned to meet the needs of tourists who often bypass the Jonesborough Visitors Center located on Boone Street between Highway 11E and the downtown historic district.
In addition to tourist information, town leaders hoped to place an interpretative history museum in the annex and to relocate the Christopher Taylor cabin to a site near town hall and to protect its deteriorating logs from the weather by covering them with clapboard typical of the 1770s era in which it was built.
Town administrator Bob Browning said Thursday changes in federal enhancement grant funding recently enacted in Congress for extension of the grant program administered the by the state Department of Transportation will prevent the town from pursuing the grant funding again for at least the next two years.
The good news, Browning said, is that Jonesborough’s pending purchase of the International Storytelling Center building on Main Street will allow the town to provide visitor information and services from space inside the center.
The sale is expected to be finalized in September. The purchase agreement calls for the nonprofit ISC organization to lease and continue to occupy the majority of the building and for the town to use spaces designated for visitor information services and for a gift shop. The center’s Main Street plaza is also designated for use by the town for social gatherings.
Specifics of the plan for the town and storytelling to share the building have not been finalized, and Browning said at this point the town’s desire is to “maintain flexibility.”
“We’re fortunate to be in a position to retain that building, which is a critical component of storytelling and the town,” he said.
Preserving the 220-year-old Taylor cabin is something Browing said the town will have to continue to work on. If not, Browning said, “The logs are exposed to the weather. They will continue to deteriorate. And we will lose the cabin.
“We only have a couple of options, which are to encapsulate it inside a building or cover the logs with clapboard.”
Had the enhancement grant had been awarded, plans called for the cabin to be moved to a site near the Oak Hill School, a popular interpretative history spot among visiting school groups located near the existing visitors center and town hall.
Because the cabin was moved from its original location west of downtown and its original clapboards removed, it is no longer eligible for state funding for its preservation.