The horse trading that went on in clearing a path for the nine-story, $81.5 million Lake County Criminal Courts Tower project was revealed last week when the Waukegan City Council voted unanimously to approve its end of the deal.
In the most significant example, the city agreed to waive nearly a third of its usual permit fees in exchange for improvements to the county’s Washington Street pedestrian overpass, a brick edifice that will be affixed with windows.
“It was a give and take,” Mayor Wayne Motley told county officials at an April 7 council meeting. “You know we hated that walkway. That was a take that we took. We negotiated fees to get that done. But at the end of the day, it was the best thing for all of us.”
According to figures discussed during the meeting, Waukegan will receive $1.15 million in fees from the county for construction of the 215,000-foot structure on the southwest corner of Washington and County streets.
Also involved in the project is installation of a tunnel connecting the existing courthouse to the Lake County Jail and improvements to the Babcox Justice Complex, both of which sit to the south of the tower site.
Sixth Ward Ald. Larry TenPas said “if you got a regular building permit, what would that have cost, if a regular citizen spent $75 million to build a factory or something?” Motley replied that permits normally would total $1.7 million.
“Mayor, I hope you use that money to knock out some of our debt,” TenPas said, adding that “the courthouse is a wonderful thing for Waukegan. I’m glad (the county is) expanding here.”
The council was provided with architectural renderings that highlighted windows on a northeast-facing curve, a design that deputy county administrator Amy McEwan said was made to mix practicality with aesthetics.
“(We) were attempting to have it fit in with the current structures, both with the county and the businesses in Waukegan,” McEwan said. “Our goal when putting the project together was really to provide the citizens who visit the courthouse with a vista of the city of Waukegan and the lake.”
According to a timeline provided to the council, construction on the tower is slated to begin in mid-2015 and continue into early 2017. The final phases, including renovation at the Babcox Center, would extend through 2017.
Work is scheduled to start this summer on the tunnel, a job that county officials say will require the temporary closure of Washington. Other long-range features of the project include resurfacing of both Washington and County streets near the site and streetscape improvements, the latter of which was also a trade-off for removing parking spaces along Washington.
“I appreciate the collaboration that’s gone on with the city, especially with the (windows) on the walkway,” said 7th Ward Ald. Lisa May.
“The streetscape is going to add a lot to our downtown, so I just want to commend everyone who was involved in this process.”
“It’s great to see how committed the county is here in the city of Waukegan,” said 9th Ward Ald. Rafael Rivera. “We look forward to (this project). This is going to be a beautiful building, no question about it. It’s going to add a real nice architectural look to the city.”
For more information on the project, the public can visit www.lakecountycourthouseexpansion.com.
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