City-run arts center could be out of Old Courthouse after Woodstock officials discuss exploring more options

The Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House is photographed Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Woodstock. The renovation of the courthouse has started, with construction and demolition underway.

The city of Woodstock will explore new options that could see the Creative Woodstock arts center ousted from its planned rental space at the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s Office on the city’s Square.

At its meeting Tuesday, the City Council discussed the idea of seeking out new tenants for the space in an effort to “explore its options.”

A few of the members stressed they aren’t trying to push Creative Woodstock, which is planned to be a city-run arts and cultural center, out of the space but instead are making sure they’ve considered every option and are being financially responsible.

The Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House currently is being renovated and, once complete, will include a handful of tenants, most of them from the private sector. One tenant, which is tentatively planned to be Creative Woodstock, is expected to be a public space.

Mayor Michael Turner, citing the cost of the project, said it “behooves” the city to look through all its options at the public spot. With some renovation estimates coming in at more than $13 million, residents have expectations that the city finds ways to help cover its costs, he said.

“I think that we should go out and solicit other organizations that may come in with something that is pretty … unique,” he said. “If they’re not better than the option we have with Creative Woodstock, great.”

A few council members, such as Tom Nierman and Bob Seegers, agreed with the amount of money put into the project, noting there needs to be a “maximum return,” with a couple saying that if they can find a way to get increased rent from the space, they should.

Creative Woodstock has agreed to pay market rent, council member Wendy Piersall said. She also cited surveys that showed residents wanted the space to be used as an arts area.

Still, she said she was supportive of exploring other options, but added that she wanted to make it a requirement the spot would be kept as a public space. Even if the city moves away from Creative Woodstock, that doesn’t mean there might not be an opportunity for it at another spot in the city, she said.

“The taxpayers are the ones funding the renovation of this building,” she said. “They want a part of this building they can visit without having to pay to go there.”

Nierman said some people have told him they’re concerned that if Creative Woodstock can’t pay its bills, the city might be on the hook to subsidize it.

Council member Gordi Tebo pushed back, saying the arts are an important part of the community. An example would be the city’s subsidizing of the Opera House, an institution he said he can’t picture the city without.

”We’re going to improve our image, and everything we do, the stronger we are in the arts,” he said. “Just because we subsidize something doesn’t mean we need to rein it in.”

Woodstock Library Director Nick Weber, who also has been a primary lead on Creative Woodstock, said at the meeting that the city spending the next several months looking at options could push back Creative Woodstock’s ability to apply for grants.

After the meeting, Weber said Friday that he is fine with the city exploring its options, noting the cost of the project and the need to recuperate the money. It’s part of them doing their job and due diligence, he said.

“I had a sense this wasn’t a done deal,” he said. “It was a little disappointing because I thought they were comfortable with it, but apparently they would like to make sure, which is fine.”

Weber said if Creative Woodstock does take over the space, he’s reasonably confident it will be able to pay its bills. Despite the project being a new thing, it’s understandable why city officials would have reservations, he said.

“It’s a new approach,” he said. “It’s a different kind of animal. ... It’s in a space that hasn’t been used for this purpose. I feel good about it ... but we won’t know for sure until it actually happens.”