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Reinvention of old Jackson Theatre ‘cultural, economic investment’

In its heyday, the Jackson Theatre on Main Street in Jonesborough brought everyone downtown on Saturday evenings. Now, town officials are considering a reinvention of the old theatre that they believe could have a similar effect.
“Look at the dynamics in Abingdon, Va., with the Barter Theatre there,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe. “I believe we could replicate some of that success with this project in Jonesborough.”
The building, the second largest on Main Street, is owned by Wesley Wilson. He is looking to sell the old theater at an estimated cost of $500,000, according to town officials.
“We’re doing some of this with an aesthetic interest in mind, a cultural interest in mind and long-term economic development in mind,” Wolfe said. “If you’re going to compete for events and festivals, you have to have suitable space to offer. This gives you that assurance.”
Town leaders intend on returning the building to a theater.
“We know that building can be put back into a theater and that is the idea,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “We could also be doing movies there in some form. You could easily have an independent film night. It would be utilized for film and performance theater.”
It could also serve as an indoor concert venue and an alternative for outdoor events when the weather turns sour, leaders said.
In order to return the building to its former self, a concrete floor would have to be busted out of the building to recreate the necessary slope for theater seating. Other renovations would also be necessary, too.
However, a cost analysis has yet to be completed on the proposed project.
“If you don’t own it or have it under option that is nailed down, anything you do as far as getting estimates is a waste of money,” Browning said.
While the renovation of the building back into a theater would likely be a long-term project for the town, purchasing the structure might need to be fast tracked for a couple of reasons.
“It is in the heart of the area. It is right there. If we own it, it becomes an asset,” Browning said. “But if someone else buys it, you can pretty much – 99 percent – guarantee it’s not going to be used as a theater again. That opportunity would be lost.”
If the town waits to purchase the building, an opportunity for some potential funding could also be lost.
The International Storytelling Center has secured a $250,000 grant from the Appalachian Rural Commission, but will be unable to utilize the grant because of the organization’s current financial woes.
The ISC has asked that the grant money instead be offered to the town to help buy the old theater.
The only potential problem with applying the grant to the purchase of the building is if the grant comes with a timeframe for renovating the structure, leaders said.
“It will have to be a longer term project for us,” Wolfe said. “But as anyone who has ever purchased property knows, sometimes you don’t get a second chance if you miss the opportunity the first time.”