Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium has been in disrepair for years. Last fall, the Public Works Department and city engineers began inspecting its leaking roof, cracked support beams and rusty steel girders. The mayor’s office has now confirmed that the city engineer deems the building unsafe for use or occupancy.
As you drive downhill into Burlington on Main Street one of the buildings you’re likely to pass is Memorial Auditorium. The 20,000-square foot multi-purpose building has been in continuous use since it was built in 1927. Until now. The Burlington city engineer has closed the building, deeming it structurally unsafe.
City Council President Jane Knodell says the building has not technically been condemned, noting that it’s not beyond repair, although renovations will cost millions. But, she adds, the engineer’s report forces elected officials to decide the building’s future. “We’re now at the point where we need to reinvest in the building publicly or we need to find a private sector entity or a partner that well put some private capital into that building or we need to explore the removal of that building.”
Ward Two Councilor Max Tracy, also a Progressive, says no one should be surprised that the engineers have deemed the building unsafe since the deterioration has been occurring for years. “It definitely serves as I see it as an incentive to get things going for how and what we might do next with the structure. There is millions of dollars of work needed just to stabilize the structure just to get it to a safe and habitable level. To do anything that might be more along the lines of modernizing the structure to accommodate a greater range of uses would cost still more money. So it's something that is certainly I'm hoping going to be a catalyst for positive change there and making that a space that the community can once again use.”
The building has been neglected for more than a decade, according to North District Independent Councilor David Hartnett, who sat on the Parks commission a decade ago. “We have neglected that building for the last 25, 30 years and because of that we now are going to pay the price by actually having to take it down. There's probably no other option. You know I think what happened was the time that we were going through this crisis with Burlington Telecom and we didn't have the money to put into the auditorium.”
Memorial Auditorium is in Ward 8 Councilor’s Adam Roof’s district. The Independent hopes that as the city decides what to do with the building, it considers the entire block surrounding it. “We call it the ‘Welcome Block’. It really needs to be a public events space. That’s historically what Memorial Auditorium has functioned as going all the way back to 1927 when it was put up. The city is hoping to have an RFP out this winter to look at options for the future for that space. I will say that the city has been in conversations, not negotiations we’re not at that point yet, but we are having conversations with the University of Vermont to see if that space could meet some of their needs for an athletic facility. They’re also in conversations with South Burlington.”
All existing tenants must move out by the end of the year. The two groups leasing space are 242 Main, a youth center, and The Generator, a Burlington City Arts project.