A university will look into how the city-owned Old Courthouse could be used as a co-working space.

The Woodstock City Council approved a contract for the first phase of a feasibility study to be conducted by Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies.

The study will examine the potential for a co-working space in the historic building at 101 N. Johnson St., including business incubators and creative uses.

The city has been discussing possible uses for the Old Courthouse since taking ownership of the property in 2011. A 2016 study by Minneapolis-based Artspace suggested a combination of tenants and uses for the building, including a co-working center on the second floor.

Co-working spaces often include shared offices and other amenities aimed at entrepreneurs and inventors, independent contractors, artists or small business owners. Users typically work independently from one another, but they share certain resources. Currently, the city hosts a weekly co-working event at Stage Left Cafe.

The Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission recommended the study be approved.

“It’s certainly an emerging area of economic development … focusing on small entrepreneurs and sole proprietors,” said Dennis Sandquist, chairman of the commission.

Councilman Jim Prindiville, a former member of the commission, was the only council member to vote against the study. He said he would rather see public money spent on a different project, such as bringing WiFi to the Square, and added he thought a museum would be a better use of the Old Courthouse.

“We’re putting the idea of a co-work use in the building ahead of other potential uses, and that’s something that I don’t want to see us do,” Prindiville said.

Others disagreed, saying the study wouldn’t require the city to proceed with co-working.

“Museum, co-working space, a brewpub — I don’t know what it is because it hasn’t come forward yet. I think our job is to continue to allow analysis of what can go there,” Councilman Mike Turner said. ”… Whoever steps up first with a great idea that blows our socks off, ultimately, I think that’s who gets that space.”

The first phase of the three-phase study will cost $9,000 plus architect’s and consultation fees. If approved, a grant for $5,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation could offset some of the expense. The second and third phases of the study will need to be voted on separately by the City Council.

The study was approved by a 5-1 vote Nov. 21. Councilwoman Maureen Larson was absent.

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