The county-operated wedding business at Stillwater’s Historic Courthouse, which officials said required too much employee supervision, has been shifted to a private contractor.

Beginning Oct. 1, the St. Croix Boat & Packet Co. will coordinate reservations, finances, insurance, event setups and snow removal for weddings at the courthouse, Washington County parks program coordinator Peter Mott told the County Board this week.

Commissioners approved the change on a 5-0 vote.

“It’s always been my feeling that government should not be in competition with the private sector,” County Board Chairman Gary Kriesel said. “Particularly, we don’t have wedding coordinators on staff. This is a good example of public-private partnership.”

The proliferation of private rentals at Historic Courthouse, especially for weddings and receptions, had become a growing challenge for the county’s parks staff in recent years. Commissioners said that they welcomed revenue from those events but that they didn’t want employees distracted from giving public tours, planning community events and interpreting the landmark’s rich history.

The county’s parks division will continue to manage and staff the building, Mott said, and county events will have priority over private events.

The Boat & Packet Co., which operates Stillwater’s riverboats, was one of two bidders for the one-year renewable contract, Mott said. The contract will pay an annual base management fee of $16,000 and allow payment of hourly fees of $15 to $18 for services such as event setups and snow removal.

The company has 34 years of experience coordinating events, including management of the St. Croix Valley Recreation Center for the city of Stillwater, Mott told commissioners. The company also “works closely” with fundraisers, school events and volunteers, he said.

“They’re operating in the community and have these resources at their fingertips,” he said.

A revenue source

In 2014, weddings and other private rentals produced $110,870 in funding for Historic Courthouse. The county anticipates that growing revenue from rentals will cover a great share of the cost of operating the courthouse, cutting the annual cost to taxpayers by nearly half to $83,400.

Additional revenue comes from office rentals and county fundraising events, including Victorian Christmas.

The 145-year-old domed courthouse, a commanding presence on Stillwater’s skyline, was nearly demolished in the 1960s when the county considered building a new government complex on the site.

The county instead built about a mile away, leaving the old courthouse to overlook downtown Stillwater from its hilltop at Pine and 3rd streets. In 1971, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest standing courthouse in Minnesota.