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Lyons: Sense of history battles dollars and cents

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 11:31 p.m. CDT

Advance apologies that this is going to be a wishy-washy column, because my left brain is fighting my right brain. More Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots than Ali vs. Frazier.

When the city of Woodstock decided to buy the Old Courthouse building, I was concerned it was inheriting a taxpayer burden. That’s even more apparent today than it was a year ago when it made the purchase.

Reporter Shawn Shinneman’s Wednesday story stated what many probably predicted. After putting about $2 million in repairs into the 1858 building, the city doesn’t have much interest from private parties who’d like to buy the property and continue with an additional $2.7 million in needed repairs.

That’s serious money. In fact, $2.7 million represents about what the city takes in each year from property taxes. It’s not feasible to expect taxpayers to fund the remainder of those repairs, and at this point city leaders aren’t taking that route.

From a practical, fiscal standpoint, this should concern Woodstock taxpayers and the word “boondoggle” does come to mind. From an aesthetic, historic standpoint, it’s more complicated than that.

The Old Courthouse isn’t just another building. Along with the nearby Woodstock Opera House, it’s the most recognizable building in town and certainly in the top five within the entire county.

If you look at this as just a dollars-and-cents issue, it doesn’t make sense for the city to own the property and continue investing in repairing it. But when you look at the bigger picture, the plan is one that probably many Woodstock residents will go along with, even if begrudgingly.

Aside from wonderful residents, Woodstock’s most permanent asset is the Woodstock Square. That’s not likely to change, nor should it. Another restaurant or retail chain is fine but fleeting.

As the economy continues to falter, businesses on the Square come and go. That’s frustrating for residents, business owners and city leaders. But hopefully, that’s also temporary.

It’s still a beautiful spot to enjoy a city band concert, the Woodstock Farmers Market, or even a wedding. You can still enjoy a production at the Opera House, a film, a meal or just a few drinks at the establishments that are still surviving.

We’ve celebrated baptisms, First Communions, birthdays and Mother’s Days at La Petite Creperie and enjoyed Christmas carols and early Santa Claus sightings at the Lighting of the Square. Countless breakfasts at Angelo’s and dinners at the Public House are also key parts of Woodstock life.

It’s a special place, and the architecture of the Square isn’t just for decoration. It’s rare for towns to have such a cultural center, and the buildings of the Square are what help allow that to continue. It’s impossible to imagine the Square without the Old Courthouse building.

The best we can do is hope that a private investor will find an economic benefit to the building and preserve its history. In the meantime, it would be irresponsible to let that piece of history crumble.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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