Woodstock approves first two leases for old courthouse

Mayor calls agreements a ‘milestone’ for renovation project, which is slated to be completed next year

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 Old McHenry County Courthouse and Sheriff’s House has its first tenants after the Woodstock City Council approved the first two leases, set to begin next year, for businesses set to occupy the space.

The agreements, between E3 Artisan’s Ethereal Confections and the Public House of Woodstock, come as the city continues its planned upgrades and renovations at the courthouse building. Once completed, the space will be occupied by several private businesses.

The first of the agreements, which was approved unanimously as part of the City Council’s consent agenda, was with Ethereal Confections, currently located at 140 Cass St. in downtown Woodstock.

The business is a craft chocolate store that will use its space in the courthouse as a wedding venue, Woodstock Executive Director of Business Development Danielle Gulli said Thursday. Currently, Ethereal Confections has a smaller space it uses as a venue.

“It gives us another downtown event venue for weddings and other things,” Gulli said. “We’d love to see Woodstock be a destination for weddings in northern McHenry County.”

The rent structure gives the business time to book weddings, typically done a year in advance and difficult to do without an in-person, according to city documents. The rent ramp-up is slower than staff might have expected, but the city will receive commission if the business is able to book events earlier than expected.

The business will occupy space on the third floor of the Old Courthouse and the second and third floor in the Sheriff’s House, according to council documents.

The other agreement, with KATLO Inc., also known as the Public House of Woodstock, was pulled from the consent agenda and approved in a separate 6-1 vote, with council member Bob Seegers as the lone no vote.

The Public House has been operational for almost two decades in Woodstock and is the only business being considered that is already located in the courthouse building. It has been in the courthouse since 2014 and is scheduled to close in October 2022 for renovations, village documents show.

As part of the agreement, a revolving loan was approved to address the interruption in business caused by both the ongoing construction and the upcoming closure, which is expected to last for five months, according to village material.

That agreement calls for eventual forgiveness of $39,200 in outstanding rent from a period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic and compensation of $350,000 during the closure. In return, the business will remain open for at least five years, according to village material.

Included in the agreement is a provision to terminate the lease at the discretion of the city, Mayor Mike Turner said Thursday, although he added it wouldn’t be a good way to treat a “longtime, established” business. He said the city looked at other potential options for the spot but decided this was the best fit.

“The nonchain restaurant industry is pretty battered coming out of [the COVID-19 pandemic],” Turner said. “Do we really want to go out and try to find someone brand new ... when we have someone already there?”

Two other lease agreements should come up for a vote soon, Gulli said. Those are with MobCraft Brewery and the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Old Courthouse building has been under construction and renovation for a few months now, with the goal being to complete it in spring 2023. Once completed, the building, originally built in 1857, will house a number of private businesses, with the plan being to have one public space for the community.

Turner called the agreements a “milestone” for the project.

“[Those businesses] will help us meet the requirements of tax credits that we’ll use to help pay for the project, and it gives us two vibrant businesses creating activity in and around the square,” he said.