The results are in: Queen City residents appear enthusiastic about a full-scale renovation of Memorial Auditorium, even if there's a sizable price tag.
Burlingtonians who responded to a survey this summer want the 91-year-old building dedicated once again to its historic uses as an entertainment venue, civic gathering space and farmers market. Eighty-five percent of respondents also said they would "definitely support" or "probably support" the renovation of the building.
Jerry Lindsley, president of the consulting firm hired by the city to conduct the survey, presented the findings Thursday to about two dozen people at Burlington City Hall.
"There's an affinity for this building," said Lindsley, of the Center for Research & Public Policy, in summarizing the survey results. "It appears [a bond vote] would be successful."
More than 2,500 people weighed in via the online survey between July 18 and August 5. Lindsley said the high number of respondents who were aware of the building and who were invested in its future was "rare" compared to similar surveys he's conducted in communities around the country.
The survey assumed that the building would stay publicly owned as a community assembly space, which residents previously supported. Respondents also expressed enthusiasm for using the building as a space for music rehearsals, workshops and a youth center.
Memorial Auditorium, which sits at the corner of Main and South Union streets, once served as a site for concerts, sports games, a preschool and the teen center 242 Main. The building has since deteriorated and has been vacant since 2016.
High costs have dissuaded the city from investing in renovations for more than two decades. The city previously estimated that bringing the building up to code would cost $4 million, while a full renovation could be as much as $17 million.
But now, Burlingtonians appear willing to front the cost. About three-quarters of the residents who responded to the survey said they would pay $110 a year, or $9 a month, to renovate the building. A resident’s share of the cost was based on an average home value of $236,000.
What exactly the process looks like will be decided in the coming months. The city will hold a workshop on August 30 and a second in September and then will present to the City Council by December, according to Kirsten Merriman-Shapiro, project and policy specialist for Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office.
Based on the proposed use of the building that comes out of those events, the city will research the cost of the construction project, as well as alternative funding sources.
Some of it will likely fall on the backs of Burlington taxpayers. Mayor Miro Weinberger will not put an Auditorium bond on the November ballot but will instead wait until Town Meeting Day in March to put the question to Queen City voters, the mayor's chief of staff Jordan Redell told Seven Days on Thursday.
During the public comment period at Thursday's meeting, some people pointed to the high cost of upgrading the decrepit building as a reason to tear it down.
"Why tie yourself to an anchor that's stuck in mud?" said Burlington resident Jake Rugg. He said he wanted a new multipurpose space in place of the "humdrum" old building. Former city councilor Bill Keogh advocated selling the property to a housing developer and using the cash on another old brick building: the waterfront Moran plant.
Others recalled memories of concerts and basketball games at Memorial Auditorium. Doreen Kraft, executive director of Burlington City Arts, called it the "soul of Burlington."
City Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District), chair of the council's Parks, Arts and Culture Committee, which hosted the meeting, acknowledged the nostalgia that surrounds the structure. He urged the public to remain open to creative solutions and to stay engaged.
"It's also important to think of the future and ... not be afraid of change," Hartnett said.