Woodstock City Council member Bob Seegers Jr. lit last week into city staff’s latest plans and financial projections for the $12 million Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House rehabilitation project set to start within months.
He expressed concerns with the planned business model for the property once it’s complete, specifically a pitch made last month to turn much of the remodeled building into a gallery, workshop, classroom and retailer dedicated to fostering the community’s arts scene.
He said the rents a city-run arts center would pay to for space within the Old Courthouse are too low for such a prominent building on the city’s historic Square.
City documents show the arts center was projected to pay just more than $29,000 annually to a public-private partnership entity that will run the rehabilitated building alongside the city for the first five years after the remodel.
That came out to about $12 per square foot for the space, Seegers said, which he felt should be more, considering some commercial leases he’s aware of on the Square are higher.
“The entirety of the community isn’t supportive of their tax dollars benefitting those residents interested in the arts,” Seegers said. “My personal belief is the specific space should generate the highest value per square foot of anywhere on the Square because of the location, the significance of the space, the attraction of foot traffic that should be involved there.”
Community members who support the concept of the arts center occupying the new space say it could bring new creative and economic opportunities to local residents. Mayor Mike Turner is intrigued by the proposal, too, but wants to see the details of the plan to finance it presented last month get shored up before committing to the idea of the city running the space, like Seegers.
Seegers also contended city staff’s projections of labor costs are too optimistic for the arts center, as council member Darrin Flynn did last month. City staff has so far predicted the arts center could run with a full-time manager on an annual salary of $50,000 with another $27,000 in benefits starting in 2023, plus another $11,700 to $16,848 each year in part-time labor.
Seegers said he thinks twice as much in labor costs could be needed for the project and the ability of the arts center to generate revenue may be overstated, too.
Right now, city staff has projected classroom rentals within the art center could generate between $74,000 and $151,000 each year between 2023 and 2027, with classroom fees at $25 per person per class and 15 people per class, and rental fees of $25 an hour during weekdays and $30 an hour on weekends.
“Taxpayers deserve the right for the city to recover the maximum amount of return available on an expense that was less of an opportunity for the city and more of a necessity,” Seegers said. “And that return should not be measured by the benefit to a fraction of the city’s population of arts residents.”
The arts center proposal, and the floor plan and design of the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House update, are still being ironed out and could get finalized before the end of the year.