WOODSTOCK – City officials want to retain ownership of the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House as Woodstock tries to determine the best way to make the historic buildings profitable.
In April, the city received a grant to hire consulting firm Artspace to complete a future use study for the properties.
Key recommendations included that the city retain ownership of the buildings but find an outside entity to manage running the space day to day. City officials now must determine what direction to move in, including how to finance the ideas.
Proposed uses for the buildings included creating art studio spaces, micro-retail stores and a co-working business incubator in the courthouse while turning the Sheriff’s House and jail into a history museum.
“Sustainability of the building is critical,” said City Council member Mike Turner. “I think that ties into the question [of city ownership]. Until such a time where I see something in there that is sustainable, city ownership may be ongoing, and I fully support that.”
The former McHenry County Courthouse and Sheriff’s House and Jail were built in the 1800s. Located on the Woodstock Square, the spaces were government buildings until the early 1970s. The city of Woodstock took ownership of the buildings in 2011, and it has spent more than $2 million stabilizing the deteriorated properties. Costs to get the spaces completely up to code and usable could top $5 million, according to the Artspace study.
“I think it would be easy, in one respect, to say that it’s really costing a lot of money,” said council member Mark Saladin. “But I think we have to look at it from the standpoint of the historical significance on the Square.”
He added that he supported the idea of a separate entity taking over management of the space, but recognized that won’t happen overnight.
“It takes time,” Saladin said. “We have to go through these steps. They are painful steps. Everyone wants to have the perfect idea and find the perfect solution, and yet it has to evolve. I am willing to take these steps to let it evolve.”
Council members RB Thompson and Maureen Larson agreed that the city likely should maintain ownership of the buildings. Council member Joseph Starzynski was absent for the discussion, but has previously stated he wants to get rid of the buildings as soon as possible because of the costs associated with the renovations.
Council member Dan Hart said he wanted to keep open the option to sell them, but he also would support city ownership.
“We don’t have a ton of options besides that,” he said. “But I don’t think moving forward we should close the door. If someone comes in and has an idea and wants to invest in it, I think we should keep an open mind.”
The Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission will meet Monday to discuss the council’s recommendations.