The Woodstock City Council formalized its support for retaining long-term city ownership of the Old Courthouse property by approving a resolution Dec. 6 outlining possible future uses for the historic buildings and stating the city’s intention to own at least part of the property permanently.
“The City Council of the city of Woodstock … finds it to be in the best interests of the city of Woodstock and its residents to retain ownership of the Old Courthouse as stewards in perpetuity; to retain ownership of the Sheriff’s House and Jail, at least until such time as the city is certain the space is not needed to sustain uses in the Courthouse; and, if it is ultimately determined the Sheriff’s House is not needed to sustain uses in the Courthouse, to consider conveying it only to an entity with the appropriate and necessary resources to properly protect and preserve it in perpetuity,” the resolution reads in part.
The Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission approved a pair of similar resolutions Nov. 15.
The document establishes a direction for the future of the Courthouse and Sheriff’s House, which have been owned by the city since 2011 and which currently are undergoing a restoration effort funded primarily with money from the city’s tax increment financing district. Signaling an intent to keep the property on the public rolls could help to secure grants for its restoration and upkeep, members of the Friends of the Old Courthouse and the Advisory Commission have told the council.
The resolution is non-binding, and so future councils could choose to sell the property or otherwise give up ownership to all or part of it.
“We do believe it’s in the best interest right now, based upon the plans that have been forwarded, the ideas that have been forwarded, to assume responsibility for the buildings as stewards in perpetuity,” Mayor Brian Sager said. “We cannot say … tomorrow what laws of the city of Woodstock or what property of the city of Woodstock … could be dispensed with or could be sold. That is an opportunity for future councils.”
In 2014, the city sought private buyers for the property, but only two bids were submitted, neither of which received much support from the City Council. Sager said the lack of private interest in the property led him to support city ownership of the buildings, which date back to the 1850s.
“If we had a private entity or two or three or five, or businesses that were coming forward and saying we will buy it … and we’ll take that off your hands, then we would be in a different place than we are today,” Sager said following the meeting. “But we just haven’t had that.”
The resolution also suggests what kinds of tenants might be best for the property, namely, a restaurant and arts center. Jim Prindiville, a member of the Advisory Commission and candidate for City Council, expressed concerns about that portion of the document.
“It’s not necessary to approve certain uses today. There’s no gain, and maybe there’s a loss, because it narrows potential uses when you do that,” Prindiville said.
Council members said the resolution allows for flexibility should different users come forward, but they approved minor changes to the document to clarify the resolution does not limit future uses of the property.
The resolution passed unanimously. Mike Turner and Dan Hart were absent.