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Eyes on the Jackson: Theatre remains key to town, region



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When downtown’s Jackson Theatre is complete, Town Administrator Glenn Rosenoff believes it will become so much more than a way to draw locals and tourists to Jonesborough.

It’s impact, he is convinced, will become regional.

“The ripple effect, I think, is going to be enormous,” Rosenoff said.

“Taking a vibrant downtown that already is Tennessee’s oldest town, historic, and adding this cultural performing arts complex,” he continued. “ It’s not just attracting to downtown, but to Jonesborough and ultimately to Washington County.”

He compares it to the International Storytelling Center, which began locally but supporters soon recognized that storytelling was truly a worldwide phenomenon. Today it draws visitors from all over the globe.

“I think when people talk about economic development and regionalism, this project screams regionalism,” Rosenoff said. ”There is so much interaction we can do whether it is with East Tennessee State University, or Johnson City, Kingsport.”

But first, of course, the Jackson Theatre project must be completed, and, according to Rosenoff, the town is well on its way to making that a reality.

The theatre project currently includes the restoration and renovation of the Jackson Theatre on Main Street, along with the Stage Door building next to the theatre and the current Jonesborough Repertory Theatre – all destined to become a state-of-the-art, theater complex.

Despite various grants and partnership with the USDA, however, the arrival of COVID-19 brought some plans to a temporary standstill. Inmate labor, long a money-saving resource in Jonesborough projects, became unavailable.

Yet, as with many things that have hit Jonesborough during the pandemic, staff are learning to pivot, according to Rosenoff. And in the case of the theatre project, plans are already moving forward without the inmate resource.

“We’ve got two things going on right now – really three,” Rosenoff said. “We’re almost finished up with the wall for the Jackson; you’ve got roof work; you’ve got façade work. Hopefully within 60 days we will actually have the lighted marquee for the Jackson Theatre. That will close out our  State of Tennessee façade grant.”

In addition to completing the façade, “drying in” the building has also received high priority. That means securing the exterior of the building to protect the interior.”

“Once your dried in, it doesn’t really matter what the weather conditions are typically,” Rosenoff explained.

The town is also moving ahead on securing quotes to continue with the project without inmate labor.

“That’s been a significant variable that has been posed by COVID-19,”Rosenoff said.  “However, Jonesborough continues to advance our projects despite these setbacks.”

The current estimate for completion of the project, he said, is 18 months.

At that time, downtown will be ready for a change.

“My hope is that this complex will add another breath of life into the downtown as far as tourism, partnerships, the potential of it landing as a landmark, not just in Tennessee but beyond,” he said. Ideally already established shops and restaurants should benefit with more arriving as the complex continues to grow in activities and reputation. 

It will also, Rosenoff said, become one more page in the storybook that is Jonesborough.

“There are so many things in Jonesborough — when you look at the McKinney Center, the Senior Center, the Visitors Center, even Town Hall, the JRT. Everything has its own story. 

“It’s not just the story about Jonesborough. It’s the story about the world, really.”