Consulting firm identifies potential uses for Woodstock Old Courthouse

Financial concerns weigh on some minds

WOODSTOCK – Possibilities for the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House on the Woodstock Square are endless, but funding an overhaul will prove challenging.

The city received a grant in April to hire consulting firm Artspace to complete a use study on the historic buildings on Johnson Street. The former McHenry County Courthouse and Sheriff’s House and Jail were built in the 1800s. Some suggested uses born from the study include turning the jailhouse into a historical museum and making room for micro-retail art studios and a co-working space in the courthouse.

Some businesses currently occupy the space, including the Public House of Woodstock restaurant and the Old Courthouse Arts Center, but the properties need extensive work.

Still, the buildings are an asset, said City Planner Nancy Baker, who also is staff liaison for the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission.

“It’s an 1857 landmark at the highest point on the Square,” she said. “It really dominates the landscape. It’s one of the buildings downtown that makes it really unique.”

She added that the study should help narrow the focus on its future potential.

“I think certain aspects of it will help focus everybody,” she said. “Some of the basic uses and the need to look at a combination of uses makes sense. But no one has approached us with a specific use and a whole lot of money. There have been good ideas, but they aren’t funded.”

Woodstock acquired the properties in 2011 and has so far spent almost $2 million on stabilizing the old buildings, which had been deteriorating.

Some city officials want to avoid dumping more money toward the buildings.

“Personally, the way I have felt is that the city should get rid of it as quickly as possible,” council member Joseph Starzynski said. “It seems our responsibility would be to reach a point where it is no longer deteriorating. A lot of money has been spent on stabilization. … But to me, the end goal isn’t ownership.”

The study made several recommendations and outlined key objectives, such as maintaining city ownership but finding a nonprofit entity to operate the complex. McHenry County also should become more invested in the space, the report said.

Suggested tenants – in addition to current tenants – included art studios and a co-working space, which would offer amenities such as meeting spaces, storage lockers, office equipment and work stations for entrepreneurs.

Full renovation of the complex could cost upward of $5 million, plus the additional expenses that could go along with expanding the interior to meet different needs, according to city documents.

“These are great ideas,” Starzynski said. “I want someone else to take responsibility of it. I think the city and the taxpayers have spent plenty of money.”

Council member Mike Turner said that while he found the analysis insightful and interesting, the recommendations likely would need close examination and more work.

“We have to look at multiple input and ideas. It’s not an easy building, but it is incredibly important to the city and the Square,” he said. “We are truly searching for something that is impactful and long-term.”

The full report can be seen on the city website. Woodstock City Council members will discuss the study at a future meeting, although it has not yet been put on an agenda.

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