Burlington Officials Lay Out Vision for Memorial Auditorium Process | Off Message

Burlington Officials Lay Out Vision for Memorial Auditorium Process


Memorial Auditorium - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Memorial Auditorium
The city of Burlington will move forward with a public process to determine the future of Memorial Auditorium. It could result in a bond vote to pay for renovations to the dilapidated auditorium as early as November, according to acting Community and Economic Development Office director Neale Lunderville.

CEDO has hired a consulting firm to send out a postcard to every Burlington resident this month, urging them to take an online survey to weigh in on the purpose and design of the building at the corner of South Union and Main streets.

"We want to see what the public thinks is the highest and best use for the building," Lunderville said Monday during an interview with Seven Days.

The city will then hold a series of public forums to determine the feasibility, cost and public preferences for upgrades. Burlingtonians would make a final decision at the ballot box, either in November or during the Town Meeting Day vote in March, Lunderville said.

The brick building erected in 1927 once hosted concerts, sports games, a preschool and the teen center 242 Main, but has since fallen into disrepair. The space has been vacant since 2016.

Renovations, which have been considered since the 1990s, could have a hefty price tag. The city previously estimated that bringing the auditorium up to code would cost $4 million, while a full renovation may be as much as $17 million.

Mayor Miro Weinberger had previously considered forging a deal with the University of Vermont that would allow the college to build a basketball and hockey arena on the block.

Burlingtonians have repeatedly voiced their preference to keep the building publicly owned. Last fall, the city’s neighborhood planning assemblies held a public forum and urged Weinberger not to sell the building and to expedite renovations.

That’s the purpose of the current plan, said Lunderville. The city has already been working with consultant Jeff Glassberg to do engineering and architectural studies, and recently hired the Center for Research and Public Policy.

Lunderville and CEDO employees will aggregate the data from the survey and hold a series of public forums this fall. The city will then determine the costs for the repairs and proposed designs before putting the decision to a vote.

"I think it’s a great game plan," Burlington City Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District) said after Lunderville presented the plan at a Parks, Arts and Culture committee meeting last week. "There’s a big appetite in the city of Burlington to restore that building."

At a Burlington City Council meeting Monday, where Lunderville again presented the plans, Weinberger praised the proposal and said he never actually wanted to sell Memorial Auditorium. "I think we should put in front of the people of Burlington a clear, good plan," he said. Residents can take the reins to decide "what it will take for us to continue the historic use of this building as a publicly owned, public gathering space."

The process will also determine whether taxpayers have an appetite to foot a $17 million bill to make it happen, Lunderville said in an interview Monday. "It’s certainly going to cost some money; we’d like to gauge what is the right amount," he said.

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