Joliet Officials Reject Landmark Status for Old Courthouse

will county courthouse

By Nick Reiher

Joliet officials dealt yet another blow to a group hoping to repurpose the former Will County courthouse when the City Council voted overwhelmingly September 19 to reject city landmark status for the 54-year-old building.

The Courthouse Preservation Partnership, led by Joliet attorney Hudson Hollister, sought the city designation as another way to try to preserve the courthouse, which they say is an example of Brutalist architecture.

Hollister and other members of the group have been lobbying officials from Will County, which holds the former courthouse land in a public trust, since December 2021 to stop demolition plans approved by the County Board in October 2019.

At that time, County Board members weighed other options, but found that demolition and ultimate reconstruction would be most cost-effective and serve the county’s needs longer into the future.

Government slowdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic gave Hollister’s group an opportunity to make their case, frequently, to county officials in committees and at the County Board.

In voting for the motion to deny the city landmark status, several members of the council noted the former courthouse belonged to the county.

“This is an end run (by the group) to handcuff the county,” said Councilman Larry Hug. Councilwoman Suzanna Ibarra agreed.

“You didn’t get the answer you wanted from ‘mom,’ so now you’re going to ‘dad,’” she said.

A vote made by Councilwoman Jan Quillman to table the issue until the next City Council meeting failed, as other members said two weeks later, the building still would be owned by the county.

Quillman initially voted for denying the request for city landmark status, but she later changed her vote to no, making it an 8-2 margin. Cesar Guerrero was the other councilman to support landmark status.

The vote followed testimony by a number of supporters for preservation, as was the case at the Pre-Council meeting the day before. Once again, the lone dissenting comment was from Elaine Bottomley, Deputy Chief of Staff for County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant.

She reiterated that the county owns the former courthouse, and that county officials have been working toward demolition since 2019.

“And I can promise you this, it will not be a parking lot,” she added, responding to comments by some members of the preservation group in the past.

The City Council vote follows action by the County Board’s Executive Committee on September 7 to reject a proposed non-binding resolution to have the county investigate reusing the former Will County Courthouse.

County Board members on both sides of the aisle want to consider preserving the building for commercial development. But Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Tatroe has reiterated multiple times at a host of meetings that the original deed is held by the county in a public trust, and cannot be used for commercial endeavors, or even a public-private partnership.

Asbestos remediation already is complete, and county officials are weighing nine bids for demolition of the building, according to Mike Theodore, spokesman for Bertino-Tarrant.

“Our office is nearing completion of that review and is planning to award a bid to the lowest, most qualified bidder who is able to responsibly complete the project,” he said.

“Based on the current review timeline, our office is expecting completion of the bid review and an approved contract in September. Demolition start time is dependent on the plan outlined by that bidder.”

County officials have said the land then would be graded and turned into a greenspace until the time is right to consider building a new Will County Office Building there.

Meanwhile, county officials say Will County residents are paying $8,000 to $10,000 a month for upkeep, not counting repairs to vandalism such as broken windows.

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