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Leaders want downtown visitors center

Town leaders are hoping the third time is a charm when it comes to garnering grant funding to create a downtown visitors center annex.
The concept for such a facility was recommended in two different studies commissioned by the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“Research shows a high percentage of people who come into town do not stop into a visitors facility unless it is conveniently located,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said. “Even though ours is on the gateway into town and probably more visited than a lot of visitor centers, we hear all the time that people who come and park behind the courthouse (on Main Street) are really disconnected with it.”
With that in mind, Browning said the annex would be built on Main Street where the historical Christopher Taylor Cabin is currently located.
The cabin would be moved to sit near the old Oak Hill School, which is located behind the current Visitors Center.
“The Christopher Taylor Cabin is continuing to deteriorate,” Browning said. “It’s just going down the tubes. It is much better off if we go ahead and move it out of there and cover it with clapboarding to protect it.”
Meanwhile, the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum located at the current Visitors Center on Boone Street would be relocated to the annex facility, serving as the main attraction at the site.
“The museum gets lost in the shuffle in its current location,” Browning said. “If we could move it downtown, visitation would increase dramatically. It would provide the opportunity for people to get connected with Jonesborough’s past.”
The annex would also serve as a headquarters for walking tours and the trail head for the Lost State Scenic Walkway being constructed in town.
“It gives us a major step forward in our ability to attract tourists,” Browning said. “Besides offering information and (historical) interpretation, it also helps move pedestrian traffic down that way a little more. The businesses down that way would get the benefit of additional foot traffic.”
The town’s current Visitors Center would become more of a community center, Browning said, offering more rental space for meetings, events and other gatherings.
“It is already more of a community facility in terms of its use,” Browning said. “And we really need the space there to do that more effectively.”
The town first applied for a Tennessee Department of Transportation T-21 Enhancement grant to fund the visitors center annex back in 2010. The application, however, failed to garner funding in 2010 as well as last year.
With two failed attempts on their record, town leaders aren’t leaving anything to chance this time around.
With the help of Marion Light, chairman of the town’s Veterans Affairs Committee, a letter writing campaign is now underway.
Light recently approached several community leaders, asking each of them to write letters to Gov. Bill Haslam as well as TDOT officials in support of the proposed project.
Those he spoke with — including Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes, and Washington County Tax Assessor Scott Buckingham — all agreed to send letters in favor of the annex, according to Light.
“They each signed letters of endorsement asking the governor to approve grant funding and the application,” he said. “I think it important for them to see it has a wide variety of support.”
Several other officials, community members and local businesses have also been asked to write letters, Light said.
The grant would provide $1.3 million in funding. If awarded, the town would be required to match 20 percent of the grant, putting the total projected cost of building the annex is $1.6 million.
Browning said he hopes to see the project funded this year so the process can get started and potentially bid out some time next year.
Projects funded through the TDOT Enhancement Grant typically take about five years to complete, Browning said.