Will Niswonger save Storytelling?
By Lynn J. Richardson
After months of silence, ISC Board of Governors Chairman Jim Reel spoke to the Herald & Tribune on May 23, indicating the ISC may have a chance to retain ownership of its headquarters located in the heart of historic Jonesborough.
The USDA Rural Development agency, the ISC’s primary creditor, had set June 1 as the deadline for the Storytelling organization to vacate the premises.
However, Reel says there may be a delay on that.
“Everyone is waiting on June 5,” Reel said, referring to the federal bankruptcy court hearing scheduled for that day in Greeneville. The hearing will determine whether ISC can emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy immediately or whether finalization of the plan will have to wait until July.
“After (June 5), we should have more information,” Reel said.
Amid rampant rumors that the ISC has found a buyer for the property, Reel also confirmed that Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger has discussed making a loan to the ISC to help them retain the building.
Niswonger is the majority shareholder of Landair Transport and chairman emeritus of Forward Air Corp. He is also the president of the Niswonger Foundation and lead benefactor for the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.
Reel told the Herald & Tribune that Niswonger will consider loaning the ISC $500,000, a loan that “we could afford in our current financial situation.”
An ISC appraisal of the building came in at $728,000. However the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court upheld Rural Development’s appraisal of $1.3 million.
“It’s a base,” Reel said, “and of course we’re also trying to get donations for the building and establish a relationship with Rural Development to get everything firmed up.”
“But,” he warned, “this is all just a discussion at this point. Everything is going to depend on June 5. Nothing is cut in stone.”
ISC Board of Governors member, Dr. Bill Kennedy, also says he hopes some agreement can be reached to allow ISC to hold onto their iconic building.
“We are trying to bring this to a resolution,” he said. “We’re hoping to be discharged from Chapter 11 this month but it may be July before that happens.”
Kennedy’s reference to the possible delay for the ISC’s emergence from Chapter 11 is based on the recent discovery of a miscalculation in the total amount of allowed unsecured claims facing the organization.
As a result of that discovery, ISC Counsel Mark Dessauer filed a request on May 7 to modify the organization’s Amended Disclosure Statement and Plan of Reorganization that was approved in March after more than a year in Bankruptcy Court.
According to original estimates, the ISC said the allowed unsecured claims would range form $1.75 to $2 million. Now it appears the correct number is more than $2.7, reducing creditors’ payments from 11-13 percent to 8.31 percent.
The ISC will be back in court on June 5 knowing that the creditors who originally voted in favor of ISC’s plan for reorganization now have the right to rescind their votes due to the miscalculation.
Thus the possible delay until July, Kennedy says.
Kennedy also confirmed that Niswonger is part of ongoing discussions concerning the Center’s future and that the ISC is involved in ongoing negotiations with Rural Development.
However, he was quick to say Niswonger’s involvement is “with conditions and we haven’t met those conditions yet.”
“One of the hardest things we have to do is have the patience to wait until we get through one step and go to the next one. That’s why we haven’t said anything. Everything now is hoping in the wind and hoping the wind is going to blow our way.”
“We’re on pins and needles ourselves,” Kennedy added. “It is hard to have the patience to wait, but that is the reality of the situation.”