Will County signs contract to buy future courthouse site

Closing date expected sometime in summer

JOLIET – Will County officials have signed a contract to buy the First Midwest Bank building – placing the county one step closer to erecting a new courthouse downtown.

The county is expected to close sometime this summer on the 4.3-acre site just west of the current courthouse, said Nick Palmer, chief of staff with Will County Executive Larry Walsh’s office. Palmer updated County Board members about the development Tuesday at a capital improvements committee meeting.

Much of the county’s plan to build a new courthouse downtown hinged on the $4 million acquisition of the Joliet bank building site at 50 W. Jefferson St.

“This is securing a footprint for a downtown courthouse campus, which has been envisioned for a long time,” Palmer said. “But this is actually making it real by securing the footprint for that. It’s another step forward.”

For years, chief judges and county officials have discussed the need to replace the existing courthouse building, which opened in the late 1960s and is often described as overcrowded and outdated.

Once offices currently housed in the bank building are moved out, the plan is to tear it down to make way for a new courthouse.

But no one will break ground for some time, Palmer said.

Contract details show First Midwest Bank can rent the entire first floor from the county for a two-year period from the closing date. After two years, the base rent increases and Midwest Bank must then pay a pro-rata share of taxes and utilities. That provides an incentive to leave sooner rather than later, Palmer said.

By fall, Palmer said he hopes the sheriff’s department offices will move to the bank from its current location, the Eagle Building, 20 W. Washington St. Other county offices may also temporarily relocate to the bank.

Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt, a longtime advocate for a new downtown courthouse, said Tuesday he’s pleased with the progress made.

“I very much appreciate the county executive and county board for what they’ve done,” he said. “I know they get it. I know they know we need this.”

Locations for a new courthouse outside the downtown area are being explored by Wight & Company, an architecture firm hired earlier this year by the county, as part as the county’s “due diligence,” Schoenstedt said.

Messages left Tuesday afternoon with officials from the bank were not immediately returned.