LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – During the Dec. 28, 2021, LaFollette City Council workshop, representatives with Postmark LaFollette approached the council about granting them a five year lease on the old post office for $1 per year.

The lease would give Postmark LaFollette legal standing with the building and allow them to apply for a Rural Arts Facilities Grant through the Tennessee Arts Commission. Without the lease, Postmark cannot apply for the grant. The grant could provide up to $100,000 for repairs and upgrades to the building.

Postmark has been operating arts and culture programs out of the building for the past 87 months with the city’s permission. During this time, the city has paid the utilities. However the city and Postmark have worked cooperatively in building maintenance and repairs. Postmark has raised $118,000 for the city to use for building needs.

On Wednesday morning, the council and Postmark met to discuss the lease. As the meeting began, Councilman Mark Hoskins requested some information from Postmark. Hoskins inquired as to how many people have visited Postmark in the last 87 months. Karen Cumorich with Postmark responded with approximately 7,000 people. He then asked what work Postmark had done to the building? Cumorich reported that they have repaired, cleaned, restored the basement of the building, painted the outside railings, repaired a bathroom and repaired plaster inside the building. Cumorich estimated that Postmark has utilized 289,000 volunteer hours on the building. That comes out to an average of 3,321 volunteer hours a month over the 87 months.

Hoskins reported during the meeting that the city has been in contact with MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) who has advised that the city will need an assessment of the building’s value to determine an accurate lease amount, and the city is in the process of obtaining the assessment. Hoskins suggested the lease be $1,500 per month and Postmark would assume all utility bills and maintenance costs. However, the city will need to wait for the assessment before moving forward.

Gary Roberts has shown interest in purchasing the building, but it appears his offer is less than the city wants to accept. Roberts did speak during the meeting saying, “This is about the kids, about the children and what we are doing as a community”. At this point, Postmark representatives was questioned about how many children currently participate in the programs at Postmark. “The number varies based on the program offered. We currently have five youth under the age of 18 participating the Co-op at Postmark” said Elaine Schatzline-Behr.

As the meeting was coming to an end, Councilman Wayne Kitts told the group “I’m against signing the lease and paying all the bills.” He would like to see the issue resolved through Postmark having a lease, paying the utilities and being responsible for all maintenance of the building. City Administrator Stan Foust finished the meeting by saying “This should be a county wide venture; I do believe this is a good thing”.

After the meeting concluded, WLAF gave Postmark representatives an opportunity to respond about the meeting. “We recognize that our initial offer of $1 a year for five years may not be within the city’s ability to accept.  Postmark is disappointed that the city council did not have a formal offer on the table for us to discuss.  The suggestion from Councilman Mark Hoskins of $1,500 a month and the assumption of all utility bills and maintenance costs was a discussion point only.  The councilman acknowledged that the city is still waiting for an assessment of the building’s value, a basis he says for creating a lease agreement within MTAS guidelines.  Postmark hopes the city will see the potential for arts and culture events based in our region’s rich history.  We hope the city will recognize how such programming contributes to tourism today and economic stability tomorrow. Postmark hopes the city will choose to partner with us in creative problem solving that builds a prosperous future together” said Karen Cumorich, Joanne McCloud Myers and Elaine Schatzline-Behr Postmark representatives. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 01/14/2022-6AM)