Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Town signs purchase agreement on ISC building

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe signed a purchase agreement on July 10, officially kicking off the town’s plans to buy the International Storytelling Center on Main Street.
The move came less than 24 hours after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to pay $1 million for the building and lease it back to the ISC organization.
The ISC filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in December 2010, emerging just last month from the proceedings. The organization’s court-approved financial restructuring did not, however, include holding onto its building in downtown Jonesborough.
ISC leaders had hoped to come up with a way to raise the money to buy the building from USDA Rural Development, the lien holder, but were unable to do so.
“I’ve said for a long time, and have acted accordingly, that the optimal outcome for storytelling and their bankruptcy would have been for them to emerge from bankruptcy and be able to retain their building on their own accord,” Wolfe said during the BMA meeting on July 9.
Wolfe said he now considers that outcome, and that chapter of the tale, closed.
At last week’s meeting, aldermen unanimously voted to approve a plan Wolfe worked out with Rural Development and the ISC that would allow the town to buy the building for $1 million. Aldermen also approved a plan to turn around and lease the structure back to the ISC at a cost of approximately $45,000 per year for 20 years. The annual lease payment will cover the town’s loan payments to Rural Development.
But the ISC will not lease the building in its entirety. The town intends to take over the gift shop portion of the ISC building to create a downtown visitors center annex as well as office space for a town employee.
“We’ve got an opportunity to take care of several things that we need to take care of, like a visitors center annex, like an office for our Main Street program director, like a very high profile spot for directional signage…and like some additional public space for seating, for events, for dining, for leisure reading, for whatever you want to do,” Wolfe said. “And hopefully, (we will) secure through a lease, storytelling’s future in the building.”
According to the proposal, the ISC would continue to conduct its operations at the building, including activities, rental space, workshops, conferences and more.
Wolfe called the deal a “win-win” situation that will benefit both the town and the storytelling organization.
“Once in a while, you get a chance to make a bold move that will have consequences for generations to come,” he added. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is it.”
Alderman Mary Gearhart, before voting in favor of the plan, admitted she had not always been a supporter of the town buying the building.
“I was very much against this at first. Our town got an international black eye and I didn’t like it,” she said. “But it’s saving storytelling. It’s not going to cost the town a dollar.”
Alderman Chuck Vest said he, too, was against the purchase at first because “it’s a large expenditure.” After giving it some thought, though, Vest said he saw value in the town owning the structure.
“If it was a break even (situation) for the town, I wouldn’t support it,” Vest said. “This is something we can do to generate more foot traffic downtown.”
Vest repeatedly emphasized the importance of giving the community “enhanced access” to the building, calling the public’s use of the facility “paramount.”
The exact details of the lease agreement with the ISC have yet to be nailed down, Wolfe said following the BMA meeting. He did, however, say access to the building is a priority.
“Our intention is for the townfolks to be able to use that building more frequently than in the past,” Wolfe said, noting that several town events will be held there in the future.
Wolfe also said leaders will “take some time” to create a lease agreement that benefits both the town and the ISC.
“We are going to be very deliberative in our negotiations,” Wolfe said. “There will be an adjustment period.”
Recognizing the ISC’s recent financial issues, the town will require the organization to pay two years of the lease – or $90,000 – up front. That money will be placed in an escrow fund in case the organization hits financial hardship again.
It is also possible there will be town representation on the ISC’s Board of Governors.
“That may very well be negotiated in the lease,” Wolfe said. “It has been discussed before.”
The signed purchase agreement has been sent to Rural Development. All parties are hoping to close on the sale of the building by Sept. 10.