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ISC Board appears divided over whether to keep downtown building

A letter written by Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe to the International Storytelling Center’s Board of Governors indicates the organization’s leadership council may be at odds over whether to keep its iconic downtown building.
In the letter, sent to all members of the ISC Board as well as ISC President Emeritus Jimmy Neil Smith, Wolfe calls himself a “strong supporter” of the organization and urges the group to retain its current building as its headquarters.
The ISC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2010. After more than a year in federal bankruptcy court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Marcia Phillips Parsons filed a final decree on June 21 — the same day Wolfe’s letter is dated — declaring the ISC free and clear of its bankruptcy proceedings.
In his letter, Wolfe refers to the disposition of the ISC building in Jonesborough as the “final hurdle in overcoming your financial problems.”
“As Jonesborough’s mayor, I strongly believe that the continued use of the International Storytelling Center building for storytelling activities and as the home of ISC is critical to the future of Jonesborough,” Wolfe writes. “I also believe it is just as critical to the future and continued existence of ISC. I feel you will put the future of your organization in serious jeopardy if you abandon the Storytelling Center.”
Retaining the ISC building on Main Street was not a part of the organization’s final bankruptcy deal in court. An appraisal completed at the request of the U.S. Rural Development – the lien holder on the building – valued the building at $1.3 million while an appraisal completed for the ISC placed the building at approximately $730,000.
It has been rumored the two entities have been working to negotiate a price somewhere in the middle of the two appraisals for the ISC to be able to afford to stay in its headquarters. At the time the ISC filed for bankruptcy, it owed Rural Development an estimated $2.6 million.
If Wolfe’s letter is any indication, a compromise on the building price has been reached. However, it doesn’t seem the ISC’s seven-person Board of Governors has come to its own consensus on whether to retain the building.
“Based on some recent conversations, it is my understanding that despite an agreement that will reduce ISC’s debt service on the building from over $2.6 million to $1.1 million or less, some ISC board members have doubts about the need for the Storytelling Center in Jonesborough,” Wolfe writes. “The building and grounds represent an investment that was five times the debt service that you will incur to keep the building, so it is extremely affordable. It is a tremendous bargain. If the need for the building is there, the question is not whether it is affordable, but if you can afford not to secure it for your future.
“You will never have another opportunity again to secure a building of this nature; an incredible home for your organization.”
Wolfe goes on to list consequences of the ISC “abandoning” the building, including the potential loss of local support.
“While the (National Storytelling) Festival brings people from all over the country to Jonesborough, it is the local support of the Town, hundreds of volunteers, and area sponsors that create the foundation of success. This is true of ISC in general. Almost all of your revenue, whether it’s the Festival, sponsors, donors, rental activity, etc. comes from Jonesborough, Washington County and the region,” he writes. “…to abandon the Storytelling Center is a repudiation of the partnership with Jonesborough, and the relationship ISC has with so many individuals, businesses and organizations in the region. These are the people that have provided millions of dollars of financial support to ISC in the past.”
In part because of the community support the ISC has received through the years, Wolfe urged organization leaders to “continue your commitment to fulfilling the vision for the Storytelling Center, and thus your commitment to the partnership with Jonesborough and the region.”