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Haslam visits Jonesborough, talks tourism

Governor hopeful and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam dropped by the International Storytelling Center last week to talk shop with leaders of the town and surrounding area.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe wasted no time on Thursday, launching into the importance of tourism and storytelling to Tennessee’s Oldest Town almost as soon as Haslam arrived.
“Jonesborough is an engine of tourist activity and economic growth for the Northeast Tennessee region,” Wolfe said. “I’d classify it as a four-cylinder engine, but at this point, Jonesborough has the capacity and is capable of going to the next level.”
Wolfe emphasized the need for a courthouse square revitalization designation for the town.
Earlier this year, Jonesborough officials succeeded in getting a bill to the state legislative floor that would have allowed Jonesborough to designate a “courthouse square revitalization and tourism development zone” in downtown.
Under the bill, sales and use tax revenue earned, and sent to the state, from businesses and organizations inside the 700-foot boundary would have been redistributed back to Jonesborough. It was estimated it would bring in an additional $475,000 for Jonesborough over a period of 20 years.
While the bill made it through the first round of state cuts, it was killed in July as state lawmakers continued to make cuts to balance the budget.
In August, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who was running against Haslam in the Republican primary for governor, visited the ISC, all but promising that if he was elected, he would get the bill passed for Jonesborough during the next legislative session. At the time, he told town leaders he’d be fighting to get the bill passed even if he failed to win the governor’s race.
State Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough), however, blamed Ramsey, at least in part, for the bill not passing during its first go around.
“I’ll tell you exactly what happened,” Ford told Haslam during Thursday’s meeting. “We put it in the budget and Ron Ramsey took it out.”
While Haslam said the idea of such a zone in Jonesborough “makes a lot of sense,” he stopped short of making the same promises his one-time opponent made.
“It’s hard because I haven’t been in Nashville dealing with these things. Right now I’m just trying to learn about a lot of situations like this,” he said. “It’d be premature to promise anything right now.”
According to Haslam, things have been going smoothly with Ramsey, who remains lieutenant governor, since they squared off in the Republican primary.
“He’s full scale on board helping me,” Haslam said.
Haslam returned to Jonesborough on Saturday, attending a barbecue hosted by Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge at his farm.
Hundreds of people attended the event to show support for Haslam, who is facing off against Democrat Mike McWherter in the November election.