The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a resolution Monday night in support of a state bill that would seek to boost tourism in the town and highlight the area’s place in the history of Tennessee.
Aldermen Terry Countermine, Chuck Vest and Mary Gearhart voted unanimously to approve the resolution supporting the creation of a Courthouse Square Revitalization and Tourism Development Zone in the town. Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald was absent from the meeting.
The bill would create a zone surrounding the Washington County Courthouse within Jonesborough’s three-block historic district. If the legislation is approved, up to $495,000 in state sales tax generated annually within the zone over a span of 20 years would be returned to the town of Jonesborough to fund various infrastructure, revitalization and development projects located within the zone.
The Tennessee General Assembly passed the Courthouse Square Revitalization Pilot Project Act in 2005, which funded six projects in the state, however, none of those were in Northeast Tennessee. The act returns state sales tax to six Tennessee communities for downtown economic development programs and projects.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe and other town officials have been working with state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, to gain support for the zone during the next legislative session. Wolfe said Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell visited the area in the summer, along with Hill, and was impressed with the level of passion the people of Northeast Tennessee had for their heritage.
“We’ve got an opportunity here, according to Rep. Hill, to potentially capture this enthusiasm expressed by the Speaker of the House and hopefully secure some funding for the county archives as part of the upcoming state budget,” Wolfe said.
According to a financial feasibility and impact study conducted by Roger Brooks of Destination Development International Inc., the funding received would allow the town to continue to work toward becoming an international visitor destination, including development as the storytelling capital of the world, development of a Jonesborough Heritage and Interpretive Visitor Center, revitalization of the Jackson Theater, restoration of the McKinnney Center at the Booker T. Washington School, development of a Washington County Archives and Genealogy Center, development of a railroad/transportation museum, historic district revitalization, economic development projects and tourism and marketing development.
In other business, the board unanimously voted to support the development of a Washington County Archives and Genealogy Center in downtown Jonesborough, which Wolfe said would be a major facet in the future success of the town in terms of tourism and historical importance.
“We want to be very supportive of Washington County and the development of this archives and, according to Rep. Hill, there’s a good chance he’ll be able to secure a state appropriation to help make this archives just an absolutely outstanding success,” he said.