Public House lease request for Old Courthouse fails

WOODSTOCK – The future of the Old Courthouse remains uncertain after an ordinance authorizing a lease agreement failed to pass through the City Council on Tuesday, despite a majority vote.

The proposed agreement between the city of Woodstock and a representative of Public House, 201 Main St., received a favorable vote, 4-2.

However, authorization for the lease agreement, which accounted for a 10-year lease with two five-year renewable options afterward, needed a supermajority vote – approval from at least six of the seven council members.

Mayor Brian Sager said such a vote is required by Illinois law when a municipality is trying to lease public property.

Voting in favor were Julie Dillon, RB Thompson, Joseph Starzynski and Sager. Mike Turner and Maureen Larson voted against, and Mark Saladin was not in attendance.

The lease agreement was for a restaurant space for Woodstock’s Public House in the lower level of the Old Courthouse.

Both Turner and Larson said Wednesday the decision to vote against the agreement was a difficult one.

Turner said he recognizes Public House has been a “terrific business” for Woodstock.

However, he argued the proposed lease might have limited interest from future investors, and therefore hindered the “broader solution” with regard to the entire building’s future.

“We’re talking about a building that is absolutely central to the Square itself; a building we want to preserve for decades, if not centuries,” Turner said. “The solution we come up with right now is absolutely critical, and I don’t think we should piecemeal the building until we have a broader solution.”

Larson echoed Turner, saying the council needed to have a “high level discussion on what the vision is for that building,” focusing on the “bigger picture.”

“I think eliminating a third of the building for 10 years is a pretty tough sell for me,” she said.

For the mayor, Tuesday’s outcome was “an incredibly sad scenario.”
Sager said working with businesses looking to expand, such as Public House, is key for economic growth and development.

“If we fail to do that as a community, and yet also talk at the same time of the importance of economic growth and development, then we’re not doing what we need to be doing,” he said.

Looking forward, Sager, Larson and Turner all said one of the key next steps will be an upcoming feasibility study, which was unanimously approved right before the lease agreement discussion.

“The feasibility study is a launching point for getting experts to help us determine the best use for that building,” Larson said.

The search began at the start of the year when the City Council issued a request for proposals, which ended in May and garnered interest from two investors: an out-of-state corporation wanting to acquire the Old Courthouse and the Sheriff’s House, and a local investor partnering with La Petite Creperie & Bistro next door interested only in acquiring the Sheriff’s House.

John Busse, the investor teaming with La Petite, on Wednesday said he and his partner remain committed to investing in the Sheriff’s House.

Among other concepts discussed thus far is a nontraditional school; a business incubator; a nonprofit base of operations; and an option in which the city would maintain ownership and turn the Old Courthouse into City Hall.

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