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Urban Land Institute experts to assess Woodstock's Old Courthouse's future

Panel will assess potential uses for historic building

Northwest Herald file art
Opened in in 1858, Woodstock's Old Courthouse was home to McHenry County government and the courts system through the 1970s when the county moved operations to Route 47 and Ware Road. The city of Woodstock is one of just 11 Illinois locations that can call itself a Preserve America Community, after a recent designation by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Northwest Herald file art Opened in in 1858, Woodstock's Old Courthouse was home to McHenry County government and the courts system through the 1970s when the county moved operations to Route 47 and Ware Road. The city of Woodstock is one of just 11 Illinois locations that can call itself a Preserve America Community, after a recent designation by First Lady Michelle Obama.

WOODSTOCK – Experts affiliated with the Urban Land Institute will tour Woodstock and interview community leaders on Tuesday, a part of the ongoing effort to determine a future use for the historic Old Courthouse.

Eight volunteer members from the Urban Land Institute with backgrounds in economic development, city planning, architecture and legal work will tour the Old Courthouse and adjacent Sheriff's House, conduct interviews and research the city's plans for the historic buildings during a two-day visit to Woodstock, said Swasti Shah, director of community engagement at the institute.

The panel of experts will assess potential uses for the buildings, located on the downtown Square, and share its recommendations during a public event in early April, Shah said.

"We are convening them so they can look at various aspects that pertain to the sustainable reuse of the Old Courthouse," she said.

City officials last year successfully applied for the Urban Land Institute's Technical Assistance Panel, using a $20,000 grant secured by the McHenry County Community Foundation.

The Chicago-based Urban Land Institute's technical assistance panels have produced more than 20 reports for various communities in the Chicago area, according to its website.

The nonprofit has produced reports on historic preservation, affordable housing, retail development and community revitalization.

The panel's work in Woodstock on Tuesday and Wednesday will help the experts develop recommendations on the Old Courthouse. The final report due in early April would cover various areas and assess the benefits and disadvantages to suggested uses for the historic building, Shah said.

Since acquiring the building in 2011, city officials have been working to renovate and redevelop the Old Courthouse and nearby Sheriff's House.

By last summer, city officials secured three proposals from investors about possible development ideas for the Old Courthouse. The ideas included transforming the building into residential units, into a restaurant and tourism museum, and converting it into a nontraditional school.

By the fall, City Council members suggested their own ideas for the building during a special workshop and favored multiple uses for a transformed Old Courthouse that would feature a brew pub, a cultural center and additional office space.

Council member Maureen Larson, who worked to bring the Urban Land Institute to Woodstock, said the group's visit this week will help city officials decide the best outcome for a downtown building that could drive economic activity in Woodstock.

"It's going to bring some experienced eyes to look at the building and help us determine the best future for it," she said.

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