With deadline looming, Woodstock has received one proposal for Old Courthouse

WOODSTOCK – A review committee assembled last week will have at least one proposal to consider from a developer looking to take over the Old Courthouse, one of the city’s most historic, but decrepit, assets.

With the deadline now looming 10 days in the distance, officials have organized a committee to take a first look at any proposals the city receives by May 1. So far, the city has received just one, although other potential owners have inquired about the building, City Planner Nancy Baker said.

“One great proposal would absolutely do the trick,” said Maureen Larson, one of two City Council members who will serve on the committee.

The technically-termed Old Courthouse RFP Review Advisory Committee draws membership from several city bodies. Its five members are Councilwoman Larson and Councilman RB Thompson, Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Allen Stebbins, Plan Commission member Jack Porter, and Economic Development Commission member Arlene Lynes, who owns Read Between the Lynes on the Woodstock Square.

The committee will take a first look at the proposals and forward a recommendation to the City Council. City officials have said they would consider asking for community input in the event that several proposals fit the city’s needs.

Receiving a proposal doesn’t necessarily guarantee a sale to a private party. The city’s 15-page request for proposals document, which went out in January, laid out what is desired in an owner.

Officials have pointed to distinguished historic features like the original curved stairway and decorative support columns as near-non-negotiable staples of preservation. But they’ve said other changes could be justified under the right plan.

The city had originally planned to cover about $2 million in construction before turning over the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House to a private owner to complete the remaining $2.7 million in renovations.

But officials ultimately decided to seek private owners earlier in the process after some expressed doubt as to whether a viable owner was out there. They said at the time that their ultimate plan to sell the building was shutting the city off from potential funding sources, such as grant money.

“We do have quite a few criteria, and there was no way to know what the potential partners were without putting the RFP out there,” Larson said. “So that’s what we did, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Construction crews are in the process of remodeling the courthouse cupola and roof, and glaring needs, such as window issues, continue to be addressed. But much work remains.

Once completed, the property will be an economic boost for Woodstock and potentially all of McHenry County, said Stebbins, of the review committee. He said he was hopeful that the city would find a developer with experience in landmark structures and local historic districts. Such experience could help navigate incentive programs, he said.

“There are some potential tax incentives available to a developer for historic properties,” Stebbins said.

The city won’t know what they’re working with until May 1, Baker said. Officials are hoping for a rush of proposals as the day approaches.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Baker said. “We’ve had several inquiries and provided some additional information, but I have no indication that anyone specifically is submitting one at this point.”

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