Its not the Eiffel Tower.
But the Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, like it or not, has become a landmark the physical representation of an entity that brings $7 million into the local economy every year.
Much like the French, many of the citizens in Tennessees oldest town werent a bit happy as they watched the new center being constructed. Delay after delay slowed its completion. Change after change ran the cost of the building higher and higher.
Its construction kept the historic district in a tizzy for nearly four years. More than 10 years later, there are many local residents who still wish it had never been built.
It was controversial right from the start. As the beams were erected and the roof was going on, there were heads shaking all over town.
Jonesborough residents were hopping mad about the monstrosity planned for their city. It was largely a negative topic of discussion in every café, grocery store and office in town. It doesnt fit the town, many of them would lament as they sipped their coffee or stood in line with their groceries.
Its too big.
We dont need it.
Leading Parisians 300 of them felt the same way about their useless and monstrous tower. They felt so strongly, in fact, that they created a petition and presented it to city government. Their petition read: We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigour and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel cost an estimated 8 million Francs to build. That would have been $1.5 million in U.S. Dollars in 1890. In comparison, by the time the Storytelling Center was completed, it came in at $2.5 in 1999 U.S. dollars.
In 1909, when the Eiffel Towers 20-year lease expired, giving ownership to the city of Paris, it was almost torn down. But, it was saved because of its antenna that was used for telegraphy. The next year it became part of the International Time Service. French radio and television have also made use of the Eiffel.
There are probably some who would like to see the Storytelling Center toppled to the ground an act of spite for a perceived grand betrayal. What a desperate waste that would be!
The odd thing is, no one seems to want Storytelling itself to go away.
In the case of both the Eiffel Tower and the Storytelling Center, there was a visionary, a creative force who was determined to see it through to the end. Behind both of these projects was a dreamer of sorts – someone who saw beyond the nails and the bolts, the roof and the floor even in the face of controversy.
Those kinds of people are rarely understood. They dont think with a pen and a calculator. They think differently.
It is usually not until many years later that we are able to see what was so clear to them from the very beginning.
In Jonesborough, we have a building that was built on a dream. For those who are practical and logical, that isnt enough. We completely agree. It is a given that there must be a balance of fiscal responsibility and creative development. But it is what it is, and in the throes of controversy, its easy to lose sight of the future and what it might hold.
Given a restructured leadership, with solid financial direction, the ISC could reinvent itself in a way never thought possible, offering more to the community than ever before.
If we look beyond the Storytelling Centers financial struggles, maybe we can catch a glimpse of our children and perhaps their children enjoying the stories that resound against the walls of that building, enriching lives for years to come.
Maybe if we try hard enough, we can challenge ourselves to think differently. Then perhaps, we, too, can find the dream it was built on.
Its not the Eiffel Tower.