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Theater purchase clears way for new community venue

The Town of Jonesborough’s recent notification that it now owns the Jackson Theater has opened vast possibilities of providing more activities for the community, according to town officials.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the idea to purchase the Jackson Theater started out with a vision held by several folks in town that the building could be put to a better use than the current residential and office space.
“To have the building go back to its former use of being a movie theater and a performance venue would enhance and compliment much of what we have going on in Jonesborough these days,” he said.
Wolfe said he spent time talking to many people over the years about the project, and the more he saw Music on the Square, Movies on Main and the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre succeed and thrive, the more convinced he became that the town needed a good indoor venue so activities could be held year-round.
“I began thinking about it and researching what other historic theaters were doing,” Wolfe said, which led to the thought, “there is no reason we can’t do that in Jonesborough.”
He said it has been proven time after time that when economic development recruiters are trying to lure new business and industry to the area, they look at what is offered as far as cultural outlets and quality of life venues, such as the Jackson Theater.
“Jonesborough has and will continue to play a very important part in the economic development of our community, simply because we offer a lot of what folks are looking for when they move in from other areas,” Wolfe said.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said now that the town owns the building, staff will work on planning the next steps for the theater in the coming month.
The planning will include revisiting cost estimates and sending out a notice-related request for statements and qualifications for an architect for the project.
“Right now it’s going to be difficult in the next month and a half because of the budget process,” Browning said. “Part of the budget process is to be reviewing cost estimates for renovations. We are going to do it as cost effectively as possible.”
Wolfe said the town is exploring with Rural Development regarding some permanent financing for the Jackson Theater.
“We are finalizing our second ARC grant for a half million of funding that the governor generously provided for the project,” he said.
Although the extent of renovation is unclear until they see the inside of the building, Browning said the theater originally had a slope floor when it was purchased in the 1960s until the owners leveled the floor with concrete.
Before the town opens the theater, Browning said demolition will take place inside so it can be rewired and installation can take place, along with doing any structural repairs needed.
At this point, he said, it is hard to formalize any accurate cost estimates without knowing what the building looks like. Browning said Wesley Wilson, who owned and lived in the building, has a lot to vacate.
As the town looks at the building and renovation cost, he said, they will also be looking into programs.
The Jackson Theater has the potential to be used by the Repertory Theatre for its larger performances, large storytelling performances and the possibility of independent films to be shown and musical concerts to be played.
Browning said one of the primary considerations for the theater is to generate activity downtown after 6 p.m. because a large percent of tourism dollars is spent after that time.
He said the theater has high potential and he is very excited about the economic impact it can have for the community.
“We are super excited about what this theater can mean for our town for many generations to come,” Wolfe said.
“This is a project that can offer something for everyone in our community.”
He said they are going to do the project right, and if it takes a little bit longer to complete it, it will be well worth the wait because there is a lifetime of benefit from a well-done project.
“It is important that we do it right,” Browning said. “We have already generated the need for it. It will be nice to have that kind of performance venue.”