News - McHenry County

Woodstock closer to cash, new name for Old Courthouse

Council members, staff said deal for tax credits was difficult, time-consuming, complicated

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 finalized a deal involving the Old McHenry County Courthouse and Sheriff’s House earlier this month, which is another step for the city to receive needed funds to help pay for the building’s renovations.

Even with the complexity of the deal, which involves the city creating a corporation in partnership with PNC Bank to gain a portion of state and federal funding, city council members last week said the closing was a “huge milestone” in opening the courthouse.

The city finalized this agreement Friday, July 15. Both city staff members and council members talked about how hard it was to complete the deal.

“To get this piece is a huge step in the process,” Mayor Mike Turner said. “This was, from a time perspective, probably one of the single biggest projects I’ve seen.”

A portion of the courthouse’s renovations will be paid from historic-building tax credits, that carry stringent requirements from the state and Washington level, City Manager Roscoe Stelford said.

One of those criterions requires the tax credits to go through a taxable entity, Stelford said. The city, being a public entity, does not meet this requirement. Therefore, transferring the courthouse to a private entity was needed.

To meet the rule, the city transferred the courthouse into a private corporation entity that is owned by the city in partnership with PNC Bank, Stelford said.

PNC, being classified as an investor, will dole out a total of $4.7 million to the corporation for costs tied to the renovation, Stelford said. In turn, it will receive $5.7 million in taxing credits from the state as a sort of reimbursement.

While ownership of the courthouse remains mostly in the hands of the bank currently, Stelford said the city would retain control over it and its day-to-day operations. As is common with such agreements, it’s expected PNC will withdraw from its ownership role after five years, giving full ownership back to the city.

The complexity of such a deal has caused Woodstock staff to work with consultants to help the city through it, Stelford said.

“These are complicated deals,” Stelford said. “There are a whole host of requirements … of what needs to happen for these transactions to be successful.”

Before these changes, the courthouse was solely owned by the city.

The city is also considering a new name for the building. While the topic received some discussion last week, Turner specified the city council was not going to name it, and instead will give direction to staff. Turner said he wanted to explore something different other than “the old courthouse,” saying “it doesn’t do it for me.”

Council member Wendy Piersall said she thinks the city should avoid renaming it something different than how residents know it. Council member Lisa Lohmeyer, a lifelong resident, said she’ was not open to changing the name.

“I think we need to be true to what this building is and not get too creative with it,” Piersall said. “That’s the whole point. We have undertaken this to save this building.”

A smaller discussion within that topic has to do with signage. While the name still remains up in the air, the city has chosen what will go on the sign above the building’s west entrance. “The Old Courthouse Center” will go on the west side’s lintel over the doorway’s top, Stelford said.

The city is moving closer to opening the courthouse, which will include multiple private tenants and a public space. Some leases for private businesses have been approved, but questions remain on what will occupy the public space.

Construction is expected to finish in 2023 after having started earlier this year, with tenants being able to move in around April.