Joliet council vote could decide fate of old Will County Courthouse

Preservation advocates urge council to save courthouse at Monday meeting

will county courthouse, government

A Joliet City Council vote Tuesday could seal the fate of the old Will County Courthouse, which appears headed for the wrecking ball.

A council vote on local landmark status could be the only thing standing in the way after a Will County Board committee earlier this month rejected a proposal to study redevelopment options for the building.

The council, however, is viewed as unlikely advocates for preservation. Additionally, city staff is recommending against landmark status, noting that the county prefers demolition.

Designating the 1969 courthouse a local landmark would complicate county efforts to get a demolition permit from the city.

Preservationists came to the City Council workshop meeting Monday to urge a vote for landmark status.

Hudson Hollister, of the Courthouse Preservation Partnership, speaks to the board at a special meeting on the future of the old Will County Courthouse at the Will County board on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

Hudson Hollister, co-chair of the Courthouse Preservation Partnership, questioned the county’s commitment to demolition.

“Even if it were true,” he said, “this is the most prominent, important, historic property in Joliet.”

Hollister noted that six potential developers have shown interest in investing in the redevelopment of the building.

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant is making plans to move ahead with demolition after the County Board Executive Committee turned down a proposal to study redevelopment, her spokesman Michael Theodore said last week.

Theodore said the County Board in 2019 voted unanimously to demolish the courthouse and has not reversed that decision.

“As far as this office is concerned, we follow the direction of the board,” Theodore said. “The direction has been demolition.”

The County Board makeup has changed since the 2019 demolition vote, and there now is some support for keeping the building.

County Board member Jacqueline Traynere told the City Council on Monday that four of the six County Board members who represent sections of Joliet support reuse of the existing courthouse.

“I really don’t want buyer’s remorse again,” Traynere said, pointing to regrets when the 19th century courthouse was torn down to make room for the 1969 courthouse.

Still, the 7-4 vote across the County Board Executive Committee against pursuing a redevelopment study indicates that there likely are not enough votes to reverse the demolition decision.

“Our Will County Board has continued to pursue demolition as recently as Sept. 7,” Elaine Bottomley, deputy chief of staff for the county executive’s office, told the council Monday, noting the vote in the Executive Committee.

The Joliet Historic Preservation Commission in August recommended approval of local landmark status, sending it to the City Council for a final vote.