By LISA WHALEY
A recent tourism enhancement grant, announced last week from the State of Tennessee, has put Jonesborough’s Jackson Theatre one step closer to opening night.
But it is also a clear validation of a project, town officials say, they have long believed will provide a badly needed boon to an historic downtown.
“The Jackson Theatre project can and will be transformational for Jonesborough,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said after receiving word about the grant. “You look at the impact that the creation of the historic district made back in the early ‘70s. That forever has shaped the identity and trajectory of our town.
“Storytelling was another transformation phase.
“Now, the Jackson Theatre is a genuine article and a part of our history that will generate interest in people not just from the area, but from around the region.”
And that interest means more revenue for the town, local businesses and the region – enough revenue to catch the interest of the state.
“This grant is another recognition by the State of Tennessee that what we’re doing is worthy of investment,” Wolfe said.
The grant was awarded to the town specifically for its Jackson Theatre Project in the amount of $50,000 through the Rural Economic Opportunity Act, an act designed to help rural communities improve assets that will aide in the economic impact of tourism in an area.
The $50,000 will be added to such recent funds as a recent $200,000 donation from local arts philanthropist Sonia King for Jackson Theatre staff and facade work and an additional donation of $300,000 from King along with $200,000 from Wolfe and his wife, Jennifer, toward the purchase price of the Dr. Charles Allen building located next to the Jackson Theatre Building that will become part of the project.
Jonesborough was among 29 Tennessee communities that will each receive a share of more than $1 million in grant money. Nearby Carter County was also a recipient.
The theatre project in Jonesborough, a longtime dream of town officials and residents, includes the restoration and renovation of the Jackson Theatre on Main Street, as well as its expansion to include the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre – all to create a state-of-the-art, yet highly Jonesborough-appropriate theater complex.
“We have advertised this thing as a potential triple threat,” Wolfe said, adding that the complex would include live theatre, music and film.
More importantly, however, according to town officials, it would bring in the people needed to produce a healthy tourism revenue.
“The Jackson Theatre Project, as we have said all along, is a program to generate a customer base after 6 p.m.,” explained Town Administrator Bob Browning.
Statistics have shown, he said, that 80-85 percent of tourism dollars are collected after 6 p.m. Yet in a town the size of Jonesborough, keeping stores and restaurants open after 5 or so can be a challenge without the guarantee of more customers And without a number of shops staying open, he said, customers tend to stay away.
“It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing,” Browning said of the dilemma of what to tackle first.
For Jonesborough, one solution is to provide something that will draw customers to Jonesborough at night.
“We’re looking at least 300 days a year of activity for our town,” Wolfe said of the anticipated Jackson Theatre schedule. “And that benefits every part of town.”
The $50,000 will help ensure needed renovations on the theatre’s important third floor of once unused space, which will now include a rehearsal and educational room, a costume storage area and prop space.
“There is a lot of initial work to be done,” Browning said.
Currently, the town is looking at a late 2018 opening date for its new Jackson Theatre, with work set to begin this summer.