The city of Woodstock is discussing acquiring the former Die Cast site.
City Council members are considering the future of the property where developers most recently wanted to build the controversial Founders Crossing. The council will discuss its options on how to address the long-vacant site at its meeting Tuesday.
City officials have approached the owner of the site – Wintrust Bank – about possibly buying the property, but details of what the transaction could entail have not yet been worked out.
“It’s a very open and engaging process at this present time,” Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said. “I am looking forward to seeing what [the conversation Tuesday] reveals.”
Council members are largely open to the idea of buying the property if the plan makes sense financially.
“I am open to any approach that is in the best interest of the residents and taxpayers of Woodstock,” council member Jim Prindiville said. “I think it’s complicated. I am not necessarily opposed to it, but we have to know the details and if it makes sense.”
Prindiville said he would like to see a job-generating use for the property.
“If we have a development that is creating good jobs, that will have a phenomenal impact on the local economy and the community’s well-being,” he said. “In the past, we have been focused on residential and mixed-use, but perhaps it makes sense to focus on job generation.”
The property – bordered by First Street to the north, Clay Street to the east, Newell Street to the south and railroad tracks to the west – has a long history in Woodstock.
The property once was home to a typewriter factory before becoming a Die Cast auto parts facility. The city acquired the property after the manufacturing business shut down, and it spent about $2.5 million to remediate the site in preparation for development.
The city owned the property from the early 1990s until the early 2000s, when it sold the site to developer Bob Hummel.
Hummel planned to put up hundreds of apartment and townhomes on the site in a proposal that included open space and mixed-use buildings. However, the development came to a halt and the property went into foreclosure after the housing market crashed.
Many compared the recent Founders Crossing plan against the Hummel plan, although some council members said the comparison wasn’t quite fair.
“I think we all like to hold up the Hummel plan as the gold standard,” council member Wendy Piersall said, “which is ironic because a lot of the criticism about Founders would have applied to Hummel.”
Piersall said she is looking forward to Tuesday’s discussion about the property, and she wants city residents to remain open-minded and not resort to personal attacks if they don’t agree with the next developer who comes along.
“It’s been very frustrating to watch this play out,” she said, regarding the Founders Crossing debate that has spanned a year and a half.
Founders Crossing developers Ken and Rhonda Rawson wanted to put up 77 single-family homes and two apartment buildings on the site, but they withdrew the petition in November after harsh criticism from residents and Plan Commission members, who voted down the plan multiple times.
Council member Gordie Tebo said now is the time for city officials to see the site from a fresh perspective.
“We have to look at this anew and see what is possible,” Tebo said. “We need something that will complement the Square but still meet the needs of the community, which is housing.”
Tebo said he would be open to the city taking ownership of the property.
“It would make it a lot easier if we had the land,” Tebo said. “We could parcel it out a little easier. But we have to discuss whether that is a viable option.”
Council member Mike Turner, a vocal opponent of the Founders Crossing plan, said he wanted to see the site developed sooner rather than later and already has approached Wintrust to discuss the possibility of Woodstock buying the property.
He said his priority was maintaining high standards for the property’s development to get the “best possible” plan for the site.
“If the city purchasing that property helps with those objectives, I am very open to it,” he said.
Turner also said he would be open to a partnership with the bank to get the property marketed more aggressively, even if the city doesn’t buy it.
“I want to see this process get as much interest from private sector developers as possible,” he said. “We need a process that takes this out to the developer community and lets them come back with their ideas, and then we assess them against our objectives for the site.”
The council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 121 W. Calhoun St.