Commissioners to decide fate of county courthouse Thursday

CASSOPOLIS — A more than decade-long debate about Cass County’s historic courthouse may be resolved Thursday evening.

The Cass County Board of Commissioners is set to vote during the regular meeting Thursday about the fate of the 1897 historic courthouse, and will decide on two resolutions: one to retain ownership of the courthouse for the purpose of restoring it and another to sell or otherwise transfer ownership or lease the courthouse to the Cass County Economic Development Corporation or a nonprofit started by the EDC. If both resolutions do not pass, the county will still have ownership of the building, but will have to again decide what to do with it. The board discussed the matter at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

“The whole idea is to just choose a major direction, and then we will go that route,” said County Administrator Karen Folks. “But we need a clear direction, and the clear direction is ‘do we want to do something with it? Or do we want somebody else to?’ This will clarify and then we can look at next steps.”

The question of what will happen to the 1897 courthouse has been ongoing for some time. Commissioners said the historic courthouse — which has long served as a signature landmark for Cass County government in in Cassopolis — has been a topic of discussion for more than 10 years, but that nearly five years ago the board of commissioners made the decision to begin involving residents of Cass County in discussions about reimagining use of the building.

Starting in October 2016, a series of town hall meetings were hosted that allowed professionals to educate the board about the types of mechanisms available. Those meetings culminated in a community discussion in May 2017. The issue was last discussed at a work study meeting on Oct. 2, where the board requested that the two resolutions be placed on Thursday’s agenda.

During Tuesday’s discussion, commissioners and the public were split on the issue.

While some commissioners were open to the idea of the EDC taking ownership of the courthouse, others, like commissioner Skip Dyes, were in favor of the county retaining ownership of the courthouse and restoring it themselves.

“It is our job to take care of county business and buildings. … It is our job to take care of this and not to pass it along to somebody else,” Dyes said. “I don’t think we are ready to give it to the EDC or anybody.”

Members of local citizen group Friends of the Courthouse were in attendance Tuesday. Members said the group wants the courthouse turned over to the EDC, as the EDC would form a nonprofit corporation to raise money to restore the historical building. The group would like to see the courthouse turned into a multipurpose facility with space for offices and retail businesses.

“This has been going on for 13 years, and that building has not had any activity other than stabilizing it,” said group member Zane Lankford. “The EDC is a program that incorporates the city, the people who live in the county, experts in grants that don’t use taxpayer money. It allows for people who are interested in the building and have finances to invest. To me, it is a win-win situation to allow the EDC, which was created by your commission, to do what it was designed to. … We want to see the courthouse used by the citizens, and we feel that the most viable option is the EDC.”

No matter which way the vote goes Thursday, commissioners agreed that something with the courthouse needs to be done.

“There needs to be something to say that we are starting a process that is going to move forward,” Dyes said. “Too many times a process has started then stopped.”

News

Niles man, 13-year-old passenger killed in Sodus Township crash

Cass County

PHOTO STORY: Old Rugged Cross Church hosts church, museum dedication

Dowagiac

Dowagiac Elks hosting annual Guys and Dolls Golf Outing

News

New general surgeon seeing patients in Niles

Edwardsburg

Michigan Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall stops in Edwardsburg

Edwardsburg

PHOTO STORY: Edwardsburg Area Chamber of Commerce hosts fall festival

News

Niles man sentenced to probation for drunk driving

News

PHOTO STORY: Uptown Fright Fest a success

News

PHOTO STORY: Niles student crowned Miss Apple Festival 2021

News

Three injured in Howard Township crash

Dowagiac

Medical event causes car to crash into Dowagiac Burger King

Cass County

Cassopolis man sent to prison on drug charges

Dowagiac

SMC recognized for turning students into citizens

Dowagiac

ETS program awarded grant from Department of Education

Cass County

Dowagiac man who broke elementary school windows sentenced to probation

Dowagiac

Changes to retirement benefits cause for concern among Cass County employees

News

Niles first ward residents ask for an end to gun violence in their community

Buchanan

Buchanan Area Senior Center raising funds to convert porch into sunroom

Cass County

Man arrested on drug charges in Mason Township

Cass County

Cass County Commissioners approve grant for Dowagiac River restoration

Business

Lyons Industries donates 12 thermal imaging cameras to Indian Lake Volunteer Fire Department

Cass County

Niles man seriously injured in motorcycle crash

Dowagiac

Dowagiac Police Log: Sept. 13-14

Berrien County

Local emergency departments experiencing high volumes, wait times