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Woodstock City Council unsure on two proposals for Square landmarks

Woodstock unsure on two proposals for landmarks

Published: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 11:51 p.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader –
Woodstock City Council members, historic preservation members and Woodstock staffers tour the dome at the Old Courthouse in Woodstock last month. Restoration on the 1857 courthouse is expected to be completed by the end of September.

WOODSTOCK – City Council members are lukewarm about a prospective buyer of the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House and have serious concerns about a local investor’s proposal to buy the latter.

A third proposal turned in this week and the prospect of a fourth further complicated a discussion at Tuesday night’s Woodstock City Council meeting, which was meant as a thermometer for the council’s feelings toward the two on-the-table – though preliminary, and subject to change – offers.

The body – which will ultimately determine the fate of the two conjoined buildings – talked for about an hour and a half on the subject. They referenced the two proposals and a chart, compiled by the city’s RFP Review Advisory Committee, which went box by box through pros and cons.

“I wish we could mash them together and have all of those boxes covered,” said Councilwoman Maureen Larson, who also serves on the committee.

The sentiment was shared in varying degrees by her fellow members of the council.

The council took issue with several aspects of a proposal from Austin, Texas-based Williamson County Investments Corporation. The corporation’s proposal to split the buildings into a mixed use hinges largely on residential units, although it also would include plans for a restaurant and art gallery.

“This is a first time thing,” Councilman Joe Starzynski said. “They can change, they can modify their proposals. I don’t see any reason why we should say ‘no’ to them, and [that] we’re not interested.”

In all, the firm’s proposal includes plans to spend a total of $10.8 million renovating the building – more than double what a city-commissioned engineer’s report estimated would need to be spent to bring the buildings up to the city’s standard.

Mayor Brian Sager said he wouldn’t support paying $1 million in taxpayer money toward those renovations, as the investment firm has requested. The city has roughly $1 million already tied up in the building’s repairs.

City Council members also had questions about a second proposal, under which the city would sell the Sheriff’s House only. The proposal from John Busse – who is partnering with Kathy Cappas, owner of La Petite Creperie & Bistrot next door – calls for about $470,000 in work to the building.

“I think they have a creative vision on how they can move this forward,” Sager said.

But Starzynski expressed concern – and others agreed – about selling the Sheriff’s House without the assurance of a buyer for the Old Courthouse.

Cort Carlson, Woodstock director of community and economic development, said after the meeting that the newest proposal, which came in this week, is to turn the Old Courthouse space into a “nontraditional educational institution” for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

A fourth group of investors – who met elsewhere Tuesday night, Mayor Brian Sager said – are making plans to submit a proposal to buy both buildings, Carlson said.

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