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Curtains up: Jonesborough buys Jackson Theatre

Max Hrenda • May 12, 2014 at 11:07 PM

Though no action was required from the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, they were nevertheless present when the public learned one of the town’s longer-running projects had reached fruition.

On Monday, after a scheduled BMA meeting, Mayor Kelly Wolfe revealed that, after two years of lobbying, fundraising and waiting, the town was able to purchase one of its landmark buildings.

“The town of Jonesborough owns the Jackson Theatre,” he said.

With the theater in the town’s possession, Wolfe said he hoped that after renovations were completed, the building could be restored to serve as an outlet for cultural arts in Jonesborough.

“We’re really looking forward to the theater, the use of the facility, independent films and ... musical concerts,” Wolfe said. “It’s the perfect facility to complement so many of the things we’re already doing.”

Wolfe said the town began to explore the possibility of buying and renovating the theater, which was owned by a private citizen, in 2012. After exploring the private sector, the town then petitioned the state for the necessary funds, which at the time was $484,000. Gov. Bill Haslam included $500,000 in the 2013-14 budget to go toward the purchase, but that money was voted out of the budget by the state Legislature.

Then, in April 2013, Haslam advised the town to seek federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a joint state and federal agency aimed at community and economic development in the Appalachian states. The ARC awarded a $270,000 grant to Jonesborough, provided the town could provide a 50 percent match. Along with the $270,000 match, Town Administrator Bob Browning chose to seek $15,000 in additional funds, citing a need to pay attorneys’ fees, title work and closing costs.

After receiving the necessary funds from a Bank of Tennessee loan 10 days ago, Wolfe said the town closed on the building.

“After a quest like we had to go on to purchase that building ... you had to question whether or not it was going to happen,” Wolfe said. “(It) lasted over two years and had its highs and lows. Now we couldn’t be more excited.”

Although the town is the building’s sole owner, Wolfe said it would take time before the initial dream of a place for concerts and independent films is realized.

“We’re going to be doing some budget work to help figure out not only the cost of the project, but how we’ll afford the project,” Wolfe said. “There are several things, once we get into the new fiscal year, that we’ll be deciding and hopefully moving forward on.”

Also at the meeting:

• The board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution authorizing the town to receive $400,000 in grant money to apply toward the town’s Wastewater Improvement Phase II Project. In his presentation to the board, Browning said the money was needed to address unforeseen costs — to upgrade a sewer pump station upgrade at Persimmon Ridge Park.

He requested it in the form of a grant or a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, which had already provided $815,600 in grant money to go toward the $2,210,000 project. The program then provided the town with the $400,000, although, according to Browning, they had another option.

“It’s ... important to acknowledge that they had the loan funds,” Browning said. “They could have loaned us the money, but they chose to give (grants).”

Wolfe added that he, too, recognized the gesture from Rural Development.

“They’ve been phenomenal to work with,” Wolfe said. “We don’t see things like this happen very often, but when we do, it’s important to say thank you.”

• The BMA approved the establishment and membership of the McKinney Center Advisory Committee, an unpaid — with the exception of Alderman Adam Dickson — nine-member panel that will oversee the town’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts.

• The board agreed on a re-issuance of a certificate of compliance for two Bristol-based developers to assume control of 11-E Wine & Spirits liquor store, though not without some resistance. Although the new owners’ certificate had previously been approved by the BMA, the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission rejected it because of a clerical error.

While the developers’ initial request passed during the board’s March meeting by a 3-1 vote, the aldermen were split in their decision Monday, with Chuck Vest and Terry Countermine voting yes, while Homer G’Fellers and Dickson voted no. Wolfe’s yes vote served as the tiebreaker.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda

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