Five years later, downtown Elkhorn feels the impact of courts' move
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The park around the Walworth County Government Center has been designated as Veterans Park. The veterans’ memorial in the park also was refurbished last year. Terry Mayer/staff.
ELKHORN -- In the last five years, Brad Wales, owner of The Elk Restaurant, has noticed nearby parking spaces around the city's downtown square open up and the number of his customer go down.
It's a change that coincides with the move of the county's courts from downtown Elkhorn to the Walworth County Judicial Center, located on County Highway NN, east of the city.
"Ball park figure? We've dropped anywhere from 10 to 20 percent in terms of customers since the courthouse moved," Wales said. "We were packed."
Dick Howarth, an Elkhorn attorney, said the move hasn't affected his law practice, but he sympathizes with other business owners.
"On any given day, there are 300 parking spaces available during the daytime hours," Howarth said. "With lawyers or their clients on their way to court, there was just more activity there. You had something going on in four courts. In my mind, the courts in the county government are the crown jewel, and when you take the crown jewel off, something's missing."
The judicial center opened in April 2005 and contains circuit courtrooms and the offices for the county's corporation counsel and court security, family court commissioner, district attorney, child support and the circuit court clerk. In addition, the human resources and information technology departments are in the building.
Kathy Ingersoll, a Walworth County supervisor who lives in Elkhorn, said the move of some county departments to the new facilities made sense.
"It definitely was a good decision for the sheriff's department and courthouse, departments that needed the space," she said.
Ingersoll thinks the city's downtown architecture hold a small-town charm that's appealing.
"There are some nostalgic buildings that I remember as a child, like the hotel and corner drugstore building on Wisconsin, that make you feel good when you go past and see them," she said. "Small businesses like that can make it more inviting for shopping and dining."
Yet any little town has room for improvement, she said.
Timeline/at a glance
1962: County courthouse constructed in downtown Elkhorn.
February 2002. Walworth County Board adopts a resolution to build a new courtroom facility.
June 2003. Construction for the Judicial Center begins; anticipated cost of $10.9 million.
September 2004: Opening date of center postponed because of design flaws, including obscured views of judges and defense table.
April 2005: Judicial center opens.
Read the full story in the May 2, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.