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Future of ISC building has Town worried

Nearly a year has passed since the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough filed for bankruptcy. Initially, ISC leaders and town officials expressed confidence that Storytelling would come out of the matter stronger and better off than it had ever been.
Now, after dozens of court filings and amid a flurry of rumors, officials with the Town of Jonesborough worry the future may not be so bright.
“We are concerned with the continuing saga of Storytelling’s bankruptcy and the disposition, in particular, of the ISC building on Main Street,” said Kelly Wolfe, Jonesborough mayor. “The bottom line is, that building, even though it is essentially in private hands, is a building that is a public facility for the people of Jonesborough. The building is a vital part of daily life in this town.”
Calling it a “centerpiece of Jonesborough,” Wolfe said he is particularly worried about rumors he has heard that the building could be an appropriate location for a new senior center.
“Discussion of turning the facility into a senior center would be extremely detrimental to our efforts to draw tourists to our town,” Wolfe said. “That building has been an ingrained part of Jonesborough. Anything that happens in downtown, chances are it’s going to have a pivot point there.”
While the new senior center project is being spearheaded by the town, Washington County has been asked to make a financial contribution to the construction since 85 percent of center members are county residents.
Although county leaders have discussed how to fund a portion of the project, it does not appear that contribution will come in the form of purchasing the ISC building for such a purpose.
On Friday, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he had not heard any rumors about the county wanting to buy or take possession of the ISC building — for a senior center or anything else, it would seem.
“I don’t see any clear benefit to the county,” Eldridge said. “It’s my understanding that everybody wants to see Storytelling occupy that building. It would be more reasonable for that to happen with a partnership between the town and Storytelling. I don’t really have a vested interest from the county’s perspective in Storytelling, per se.”
The county has four years remaining on a 15-year debt obligation to the ISC building of $50,000 per year.
“I’ve had a lot of citizens complain that we’re still paying on it and we’ve put a lot of money into it, and that is true,” Eldridge said. “But without a clear way to recoup an investment, to me, it’d be throwing good money at bad money.”
While an appraisal completed at the request of ISC officials deemed the building to be worth a mere $728,000, a federal bankruptcy judge last month put the value of the building at $1.3 million — more along the lines of an appraisal done for the USDA Rural Development, the loan holder for the building.
The ISC has until Dec. 31 to file a reorganization plan, with or without the facility. After the deadline, others will be able to jump in and try to acquire the building or, possibly, the organization.
Meanwhile, town leaders are forging ahead with their original plans to build a new senior center at one of two sites — on East Main Street near the Longview Avenue neighborhood or on Persimmon Ridge Road on property adjacent to the current senior center building.
“We are in the middle of site selection right now,” Wolfe said. “Our goal is to get some building plans finalized so we can go ahead and move forward with the project.”