December 03, 2021
Local News

Woodstock moves forward design plans, tax credit applications for Old Courthouse and Sheriff's Jail renovation

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The facade design for the proposed renovation of Woodstock's Old Courthouse and Sheriff's Jail building was given a thumbs up from the Woodstock City Council Tuesday.

The green light for the proposed design, by city-hired architect Studio GWA, comes as officials are awaiting word on applications for state and federal tax credits that are necessary to fund the project, according to comments by city officials previously reported by the Northwest Herald.

City staff is confident the tax credit applications will work out in Woodstock's favor, even as there are 26 other known projects competing for allocations from the Illinois historic tax credit program.

The city submitted an application through the program website Oct. 7 just 0.08 seconds after the application window opened to ensure it would win a tie-breaker between any equally qualified projects, according to a memo from Woodstock Planner Darrell Moore to the city manager. The city could receive more than $2 million in state tax credits desired for the project, according to the memo.

"Taking a closer look at the particulars of each project, staff has identified that only two projects – ours and one other – have the potential to score a 5 out of 5 after the ... submittal. All factors taken together lead to the conclusion that the Courthouse project is assured to be allocated the entirety of the tax credits being sought," Moore said in the memo.

Woodstock also has received approval from the National Park Service for federal tax credits for the project, which may approach $1.5 million, according to the memo.

But a condition of receiving the federal credits may require the city's renovation plans to change. The park service, which evaluates the appropriateness of altering buildings on the National Register and determines eligibility for federal tax credits, listed keeping a portion of the original jail cells in the building intact as a must.

The building's overhaul, which could cost up to $5 million, according to Northwest Herald reporting from last year, is set to involve creating a new entrance in the Public House with a ramp, remodeled restrooms and removing the stairs in the Public House to make it compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the commission's minutes.

And that's just on the ground floor.

The second story remodel will include turning the gallery into a makerspace and art center operated by Woodstock Public Library, removing a door in the west side of the building so visitors can see all the way through the interior, adding new restrooms near the back of the building by the elevator, and creating a cafe space in front of the Sheriff's House and a kitchen in the back of the Sheriff's House, according to city documents.

On the third floor, the city is planning an event space, meeting rooms, a possible bridal suite with a restroom and a small catering kitchen, along with a restroom.

"The most recent plans for the building entail removing all of the cells from their current locations, though some will be reassembled in the basement and used for dining space," according to the memo to the city manager. "Staff has not yet reached out to the National Park Service for clarification as to whether keeping the cells in the building is enough to meet the condition. If not, some floor plans will need to be adjusted."

Additionally, the park service said the judge's bench in the building must be reused in a publicly accessible spot in the building.

"This approval does not extend to the demolition of all three extant cell blocks, which are character-defining features of the jail," the National Park Service said in response to the city. "At a minimum, one block of cells must remain in place."

Earlier this month, the Friends of the Old Courthouse volunteer group donated $10,000 to the city to support the ongoing efforts to restore the local landmark. The group, since its founding in 2016, has now donated $40,000 toward building improvements that have secured the exterior and helped prevent further weather damage and city expense, according to a news release.