Will County closer to buying First Midwest Bank building
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2013 6:28PM
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:08AM
JOLIET — Will County’s plan to buy the downtown First Midwest Bank building advanced on Thursday, part of a multiyear building program to modernize and centralize county government offices.
The county board’s executive committee voted unanimously to give County Executive Larry Walsh’s office permission to close on the bank building and its 4.3-acre site, 50 W. Jefferson St., for $4 million.
The building will house county offices in the short term, but the property could be the site of a new county courthouse later this decade, county officials have said.
Money for the acquisition would come from reserves in the county’s general fund, its main operating fund, county finance director Paul Rafac said. The full board is scheduled to vote on the purchase at its Sept. 19 meeting.
The county initially plans to move workers from the sheriff’s department, merit commission, public building commission and coroner’s office out of the court annex, 57 N. Ottawa St., into the bank building. It would be the first step toward consolidating offices for the sheriff and state’s attorney and getting a new courthouse.
First Midwest Bank will continue to lease the first floor of the building for two years for $292,000 a year until it can find a new downtown location, Nick Palmer, Walsh’s chief of staff, said.
Eventually, the building could be torn down to make way for a courthouse to replace the adjacent 45-year-old courthouse, which officials say is overcrowded and out of date.
Denise Winfrey (D-Joliet), who has been on the county board since 2009, said she specifically sought to chair the capital improvements committee to help the building program get going.
“I don’t want us to keep studying and restudying (the problems),” she said. “Each time you study, you should be moving down a tier and drilling down deeper so you get closer to the project.”
While county officials search for ways to pay for a new courthouse, Winfrey is establishing an ad hoc committee that will determine how big it needs to be.
“So as soon as we have the money issue resolved, we’re ready to go,” she said.
A new courthouse could cost an estimated $200 million. Chief Circuit Court Judge Richard Schoenstedt, who has been pushing hard for a new building, recently sent a letter to state Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Joliet) and state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. (D-Elwood), asking them to sponsor legislation to enable Will County to charge a “judicial facilities fee” of up to $30 to help pay for the new courthouse.
“We absolutely support that,” Winfrey said of Schoenstedt’s request.
The county also is poised to buy the former Social Security Administration building, 158 N. Scott St., to house the land use department. Palmer said the vacant building will be gutted and renovated in time to move the department before its lease expires in September 2014.
The estimated cost of the building is $850,000. The acquisition has been delayed as tests were done to make sure there were no environmental issues with the building.