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Revitalizing Revitalization

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey might not be Tennessee’s next governor, but during a visit to Jonesborough last week, he promised that wouldn’t make a difference in his dedication to get a revitalization zone designated in Tennessee’s Oldest Town.
“Win or lose, I’m still going to be fighting for this. I understand the importance of it to the downtown of Jonesborough,” Ramsey said during a campaign stop to downtown Jonesborough Wednesday afternoon. “It not only helps small businesses, it also helps promote the tourism that is Jonesborough.”
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.
While the bill made it through the first round of state budget cuts, it was killed in late July as state lawmakers continued to make cuts in order to balance the books.
“There would be $475,000 out of taxes the state would let us keep here for a period of 20 years that would be used to leverage bonds to start building attractions now,” said State Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and a proponent of the bill. “We pushed and pushed and pushed, but some got apprehensive to take anything out of the stream this year. We’ve laid enough groundwork that we are hopeful it will go through next year.”
According to an economic feasibility study done at the request of town leaders, the zone would help bring an additional 200 visitors a day to Jonesborough.
“That translates into revenue for the merchants and town, and the surrounding communities,” said Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe last week. “Our studies show it would equal about $10 million in new tax revenues for not only Jonesborough, but the surrounding area.”
The additional traffic and income would likely come as good news to downtown merchants, of which two closed their doors within just the last month.
“The economic times are just hard. It’s hard on retail and it’s hard on small businesses,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said. “We are trying to anything that we can that puts people into town.”
And Ramsey is optimistic the town’s efforts will be rewarded.
“I’d say the chances are good to get this in Jonesborough,” said Ramsey, who referred to the state as in an “economic turnaround” as he offered small business owners a possible silver lining. “Just hang in there. We hope to have help on the way.”By ELIZABETH CLOYD
Staff Writer
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A cool breeze was blowing and the bugs were singing at top volume Friday night as members of Eden United Methodist Church in Jonesborough tried to sleep outside in cardboard boxes, as part of their Mission Awareness Weekend.
“It’s hard sleeping on asphalt all night, and sleeping in a small water heater box. They are kind of claustrophobic,” said Carolyn Kerr, organizer of the event, and volunteer youth leader.
Kerr, along with seven other adult volunteers, and 13 kids, willingly bunked outside in their church parking lot to get a taste of what life would be like as a homeless person.
The less-than-restful slumber party punctuated a labor intensive 24 hours that made up the church’s sixth annual Mission Awareness Weekend.
The evening kicked off with a scavenger hunt for canned food, which will be donated to the Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association’s Food Pantry.
Kids, and their adult chaperones knocked on the doors of several nearby neighborhood homes asking for canned goods.
During the food drive Kerr said she saw impressive examples of generosity in total strangers, who were hit hard by the recession. People answered their doors who claimed to be recently unemployed, and they just dug a little deeper in their pantries to find food for church volunteers.
“Instead of hoarding what they had, they still shared,” she said.
Kerr also explained that the weekend had an additional impact on the participants because so many of them have family members coping with job loss. “Almost every family in that room of 11 or 12 kids had an experience with that, and knew that their family had struggled,” she said. “It’s not that they’re homeless, it’s just rough right now.”
The youth group collected a total of 180 cans of food, which Kerr had stored in the sanctuary to visually underpin their efforts to reduce hunger and homelessness.
“I had them stacked in the sanctuary in a giant pyramid, (because) I like the congregation to know that it’s not all fun and games,” she explained.
The weekend was filled with fellowship, games, lively group discussions, and community service. And Kerr has used the weekend event to try to shine a spotlight at poverty’s problems a different way each year. “Last year it was a mission focus on what Johnson City had to offer,” she said. “So we were on a midnight scavenger hunt to the Salvation Army, and the Manna House, and Interfaith Hospitality and all that.
“One year we adopted a child from Africa through World Vision, so we had a shack built, and spent the night in it. And (we) learned more about international homelessness and hunger.”
And Kerr thinks helping children become aware of society’s problems will galvanize them to help ease human suffering both today, and in the future.
“Once your eyes are open you see the problem, and if you expose a child when they are younger, then hopefully as they become an adult they will continue to do community service work,” she explained.
Ashley Tipton of Jonesborough was happy, but obviously sleepy, after only four hours of restless shut-eye in her cardboard box.
“It’s kind of tiring sleeping outside, and the bugs were unusually loud last night. I’m not used to the sound. I live in the country, but the bugs are never that loud,” she said laughing. “It’s weird waking up too, because sometimes the box sort of collapses on you, but you’re so tired you don’t even know what is going on.”
This was 18 year old Tipton’s fourth year participating in the community service weekend. And though it was anything but restful, she said it is rewarding and fun to increase peoples’ awareness of homelessness and hunger.
“I like helping others; letting people know if they need something they can come to me is rewarding,” she said. “Just one can (of food) can help a person, every little bit helps.”
And to Tipton, who heads off to her freshman year of college in two weeks, the program was a little bittersweet.
“A lot of us are actually going off to college, so for some of us this will probably be the last time we get to do this,” she said.
The cheerful, but slightly bedraggled volunteers reported to the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City for grounds clean-up early Saturday morning. “Which was interesting because they took down the privacy fence for us, and just beyond the fence there was a (homemade) homeless shelter, right there in plain sight for them to see,”Kerr said.
Then they rounded out the day by attending the ground breaking ceremony at the newest Habitat for Humanity site in Jonesborough, where they later pitched in to help the builder-volunteers.
Tipton says she’ll miss the weekend when she goes away to school, but she hopes to volunteer in college too. “(It’s important to) make it heard that there are people that are hungry in our community, there are people out there who can’t provide for their families,” she said. “And I think going out and helping people puts it out there even more; people are bound to talk about it.”