Investors propose different futures for Woodstock landmarks

WOODSTOCK – A corporate, out-of-state developer is interested in taking over the Old Courthouse and Sheriff's House and a local investor tied to a Square restaurant wants to buy the latter.

The city's search for a private owner for the historic landmarks on the Square ended this month and resulted in the two, very different proposals. The Woodstock Old Courthouse RFP Review Advisory Committee met Wednesday for a preliminary discussion on the two options.

The committee's role represents a step in a lengthy process that will involve further sorting through the details of the two offers and contacting each investor. The topic likely won't come before the city council until at least mid-July, said Cort Carlson, Woodstock director of community and economic development.

He said it was too early to tell whether the city would ultimately come to terms with either developer.

"The committee's job is to review them, flush out any discrepancies, get any questions answered, fine tune the proposals, and then make any recommendations and refer them back to the full city council for a discussion," Carlson said. "There is no guarantee that we're going to pick one or the other."

In one proposal, investor John Busse of North Barrington is proposing a purchase and renovation of the Sheriff's House only. Busse – who is partnering with Kathy Cappas, owner of La Petite Creperie & Bistrot next door – would expand and renovate the current restaurant layout while accentuating the history of the jail.

"It's unique in that it maintains the restaurant, and it does create some kind of a small tourism museum," Carlson said.

The investor has proposed buying the building for $10,000 – which, Carlson added, would be up for negotiation.

He said Busse and Cappas are engaged and interested in the building's place in Woodstock.

"They're actually interested in the preservation and the future viability of the building and really being part of the community," he said.

Under the other proposal, Austin, Texas-based Williamson County Investment Corporation would take over the Old Courthouse and Sheriff's House with support of $1 million from the city. Carlson said the investor's proposal wasn't clear as to whether that money included funds that have already been devoted toward fixing things like the Courthouse cupola, which is currently under construction.

The developer would renovate the buildings for predominately residential use, while keeping the restaurant space and second-story art gallery and courthouse area in-tact, Carlson said.

The buildings would include eight one- and two-bedroom units in all, he said.

"They're out of state. Obviously, they're looking at it as more of an investment opportunity," Carlson said. "I don't know that they've been here to see the building, or tour the building."

He said the proposal, like the local proposal, would act as a launch point for negotiations.

The two offers are no guarantee that either building will end up in private hands.

The city accelerated its plan to sell last year after some expressed doubts as to whether a viable buyer would come forward, and amid concerns that a plan to get the building out of public hands was shutting Woodstock off from funding avenues such as grants. If the city was in ownership for the long haul – the theory went – it offered advantages to know that up front.

Officials had originally said the city would cover about $2 million in renovations before a sale – leaving about $2.7 million for a developer.

The city's request for proposals went out in January with a May 1 deadline.

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