The town of Jonesborough is seeking funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission to purchase and renovate the former Jackson Theatre in the wake of the state legislature’s failure to approve state budget funding for the project.
State Sen. Rusty Crowe said Monday that Mark Cate, chief of staff for Gov. Bill Haslam, recommended the town seek ARC funding for the project soon after the state House of Representatives failed to approve $500,000 for the theater included in Haslam’s state budget proposal.
“It probably is more appropriate to do this project with ARC funding, and my hope is that it may be more (than $500,000),” Crowe said. “I was told it could take somewhere around four weeks.”
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the town appreciates the governor’s understanding of the role the theater can play in boosting tourism and the economy of the local area.
“While it’s unfortunate that our project didn’t make it through the (legislative) process, we remain hopeful for additional help and extremely thankful for the governor’s continued efforts on our behalf,” Wolfe said.
Citing the cultural and economic impact Barter Theater has in Abingdon, Va., and the Paramount Theater has in Bristol, Crowe said he believes the theater project in Jonesborough holds even greater potential.
“Really, I see it as an investment in the whole area. When people come to the theater in Jonesborough, they will have the state’s oldest town and its wonderful shops and restaurants. And they will also use the hotels and restaurants in Johnson City,” he said.
Built in the 1920s, the theater building is located on Main Street near the International Storytelling Center and is currently leased to shop owners. Jonesborough resident Wesley Wilson owns the property and has discussed selling it to the town for about $500,000. The cost of restoring the building has been estimated at $1.6 million, for a total project cost of more than $2 million.
Wolfe said the town’s plan to purchase and restore the theater has been in the works for a number of years and is based on a tourism study conducted by the consulting firm Destination Development. The idea is to use the theater as a venue for independent films and to expand on Jonesborough’s already successful Music on the Square and repertory theater programs.
“What this can mean for Jonesborough is a year-round draw for movies, musical performances and theatrical productions, not unlike Barter and the Paramount offer in neighboring cities,” he said. “We’re not just talking about live stage performances. We’re talking about ... a great music venue that we could take advantage of.”