Home Vermont New vision for Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium and Gateway Block

New vision for Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium and Gateway Block

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – New plans for Burlington’s Gateway Block could mean at least a partial demolition of Memorial Auditorium and moving the city’s main fire station.

Memorial Auditorium closed in 2016 when it was declared structurally unsafe. The city has been trying to figure out what to do with the building ever since. Now, the city is exploring a public-private partnership that would transform not only the old building but the entire city block.

A dilapidated building, the shell of what once was a vibrant piece of Burlington’s downtown, that hosted the likes of Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry.

It closed after the city failed to keep up maintenance on the aging structure. Since then, there have been many failed attempts to salvage the historic structure.

The latest path forward might mean Memorial Auditorium becomes just a memory.

“We’re not sure whether memorial will stay and can be saved. And that’s one thing these local developers are probably more attuned to, is the idea that some amount of memorial should remain,” said Brian Pine of Burlington’s Community & Economic Development Office.

The city is exploring entering a public-private partnership with two local developers, Eric Farrell and Joe Larkin. The agreement would address not just what to do with memorial but how to redevelop the whole Gateway Block.

“Housing probably a hotel, ground floor commercial, indoor and outdoor civic space, below grade parking, at least having as much public parking as we see today on the municipal parking lot,” Pine said.

The vision for the block also includes moving the fire department out of its historic building to a new facility on Pine Street, and possibly combining the South End fire station with the downtown station, and even the police department.

“The suitable location is both because the central fire station building is both outdated and obsolete for what the fire department needs, but also because… it’s not the ideal location,” Pine said.

If the agreement works out, developers would finance the public safety building projects, and the city would pay back on a lease until bonding capacity is available in the city.

Another goal for the Gateway Block is a new youth center to replace the old 242 Main that was located in the basement of Memorial Auditorium. That’s a priority for Jim Lockridge of Big Heavy World who has long wanted to see memorial be a civic gathering place once again.

“It’d be nice to see them make on paper the firmest commitment they can, the mandate to adhere in this development to what the city has said it wants from Memorial Auditorium,” Lockridge said.

The City Council is set to review a pre-development agreement on Monday.

The city stresses this is still very early in the project. They say by October there will be a much clearer vision of what the project could look like. But any construction on the site is likely at least two years away.

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