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Jonesborough plans for ‘Courthouse Square’ zone

Jonesborough officials are looking to implement a program that will allow the Town to receive some sales tax back from the state in order to make improvements in the downtown historic district.
Town Administrator Bob Browning is currently working on getting the state to create a zone around the Main Street courthouse that would provide Jonesborough with extra revenue over a 10-20 year period at no new cost. The state legislature must first approve the zoning for Jonesborough.
“What we can do is create a district around the [Main Street] courthouse and get taxes back that can be used for improvements,” Browning explained.
In the past, the State has created a few initiatives that have allowed state sales tax money to flow back into the community, Browning said. The areas were called “tourist development zones,” and legislation had to be passed so they could be created under certain circumstances.
The zones are more oriented toward large cities, and require major investment from the city and also from private investors, and are often centered around attractions like convention centers, Browning said. The state would then invest sales tax revenues that the state would normally keep back into the projects as an economic development tool. The amount of money generated over and beyond what has been collected before, based on a certain time period comparison, is given back to the locality.
Added to that zone was legislation in 2005 that started a courthouse square revitalization program, and the state started 6 pilot projects in counties with less than 120,000 people.
Almost all of the state sales tax – in addition to the local sales tax – comes back to the locality in a courthouse square district.
“That’s what we’re really interested in,” Browning said. “We’re creating sort of a combination thing.”
Jonesborough must lobby legislators to get the special district passed.
“The justification to the state is that we’re the oldest town and a serious tourist destination,” he said.
“The state funds state parks that have tourist components to it, but it doesn’t happen in Jonesborough and Washington County,” Browning said. “We don’t get any ongoing state allocation like other counties.”
The tourism component in Jonesborough is also highlighted in the Town’s Interpretive Master Plan and its branding plan, and the returned sales tax can be used for some of the projects outlined in the two plans.
“It’s pretty broad as to how you can use [the refunded sales tax,]” Browning said.
Those uses include infrastructure improvements, loans to private enterprises for façade improvements, interpretive spaces, or landscaping, for example.