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DONE DEAL: Town officially owns ISC building

Leaders handed over a $1 million check Feb. 8, officially giving the Town of Jonesborough ownership of the International Storytelling Center building on Main Street.
“It’s a pretty big day for us. The ISC purchase is a win-win for the town and storytelling,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said after signing his name to the necessary paperwork to seal the deal. “Any time you can purchase a building, have a tenant in place immediately and cover all your expenses while continuing to preserve the building for community use and strengthening the health of such an important nonprofit organization, it’s a good thing.”
Town officials voted to purchase the building in July 2012 following the International Storytelling Center organization’s announcement that it would not be able to continue owning the structure when it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The town struck a deal with USDA Rural Development, the property’s lien holder, to buy the structure for $1 million instead of allowing it to go into foreclosure proceedings. Rural Development also agreed to loan the town the necessary funds to make the purchase.
“This move, combined with the many good reforms Storytelling has undertaken to improve their financial health should completely resolve any issues with the organization for many, many years to come,” Wolfe said.
The ISC will continue to operate from its headquarters in the heart of downtown Jonesborough, but now as a renter, paying the town monthly payments that total approximately $45,500 annually as part of a lease agreement. The rental fee covers the town’s mortgage payments.
Some space within the building will now be utilized for town purposes instead of for the nonprofit organization.
“The town now, and our (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) in particular, have some important decisions to make about the details of our use of part of the building,” Wolfe said. “Now that we have ownership, we can begin in earnest those discussions.”
Melinda Copp, the town’s Main Street Program coordinator, and Terry Alexander, the town’s webmaster, have already relocated their offices to the ISC building.
Additionally, the BMA will consider what the group wants to see happening on the plaza in front of the building as far as community uses as well as the future of the gift shop space.
In previous discussions, leaders have said they want to create a visitors center inside the area that houses the ISC gift shop.
The ISC is currently operating from the building through a temporary lease agreement with the town as some details of the long-term lease, which will be for a period of 20 years, are worked out. Once that long-term agreement is in place, Wolfe said he does not expect the relationship between the two entities to change.
“It will be important for (the town) to respect the integrity of the organization to make their own decisions while keeping an eye on their overall financial health,” Wolfe said. “We want nothing more than for them to continue to produce successful events that bring people to Jonesborough.”
The purchase takes the property off both county and town tax rolls as it is now owned by a municipality and considered tax exempt. In previous years, taxes paid to the town on the property were approximately $1,300 annually. Approximately the same amount was paid to the county each year, Wolfe said. All taxes through 2012 have been paid.
Last week’s big purchase also gives the go-ahead on the town’s construction of a new senior center at the corner of East Main Street and Longview Avenue.
The same loan from Rural Development that allowed the town to buy the ISC building included an additional $2.3 million in funding for the construction of the senior center.
Architectural plans for the new building have been approved from the state fire marshal. They are currently under review by Rural Development and must be approved there before the project can be bid out, according to Town Administrator Bob Browning.
“Typically you have your bids back and select a contractor before you break ground,” Browning added. “We’re intending to be under construction this spring.”
In all, the senior center project is expected to cost an estimated $2.8 million.