On Monday, May 23, Burlington’s city councilors attended a work session to discuss Memorial Auditorium, with a presentation by CEDO Director Brian Pine and Assistant Director for Community Works Samantha Dunn. The agenda of this public meeting did not have a public comment agenda item, but councilors welcomed a two-minute statement:

“You were elected to office to seek and embrace the tasks that improve our city and to steward the legacies that previous generations trusted you with. 

I want to make a statement that challenges you as a city council to see Memorial Auditorium as a canvas for the expression of our values. 

We care about each other and being a community — community happens when we gather in a common space. 

We care about recovering from the pandemic crisis; reopening our civic hall would be a statement of resiliency. 

We honor our veterans; Memorial Auditorium is a literal landmark that makes those who served in uniform recognizable to every single visitor to Main Street. 

We are an equitable, inclusive society; restoring the city’s performing arts stages ensures we all have a platform for expression. 

We want our youth to grow into engaged citizens; 242 Main was where a sense of belonging was imparted.

We trust the voice of our residents and invest in transparent public processes to learn most completely and responsibly what the right path forward is when the city makes big decisions. In 2018, the people of Burlington said they wanted Memorial Auditorium restored and returned to use.

You each do your own thinking so the best I can do is ask that if you share these values, please recognize that Memorial Auditorium should be returned to having the uses that thousands of Burlington residents said they wanted when the Center for Research and Public Policy surveyed more than 2,100 of them or 2,300 signed the Save242Main.com petition. I offer these comments with faith in the values-based leadership you’ll show as our civic leaders.”

City council work session in progress.
CEDO staff present about Memorial Auditorium to Burlington’s City Council.

Samantha Dunn described several “public-private” options for returning the building to use, with various purposes including housing. A choice among these was for the administration and city council to work with community members comprising the ‘Get It Done: Memorial Auditorium’ committee coordinated by Melinda Moulton. Their vision is to fundraise private support for the restoration of Memorial Auditorium to return it to service in alignment with the 2018 public input survey results — the vision and objective of Burlington’s residents. Samantha read this paragraph for councilors at Melinda’s request:

“Councilors, this information is offered by Melinda Moulton and James Lockridge in support of a public-forward option for the future of Memorial Auditorium. In 2018 a public process that included responses from more than 2,100 Burlington residents led to approval of a plan to return Memorial Auditorium to use as a multi-function public commons. Programming priorities specified by more than 50% of surveyed residents include shows, community meetings, farmers markets, and youth music space. That public process and outcome was catalyzed when every NPA in the city organized an event in support of Memorial Auditorium at Contois Auditorium. A new community group, ‘Get It Done: Memorial Auditorium,’ has formed to aid the city in pursuing this plan, recognizing that throughout the recent mayoral terms the administration hasn’t had the capacity to resolutely accomplish the public vision for Memorial Auditorium, which included funding goals for phased improvements to the building. This group, along with City, State, and Federal support, proposes to develop and steer new financial resources into this goal, harnessing the experience, relations, and political wisdom of Burlington residents and regional institutions who are committed to restoring the building and accomplishing this authentic public plan. ‘Get It Done’ and the City of Burlington Administration and Departments would demonstrate the confidence, values and efficacy of a public-private alliance with the people of Burlington and responsibly steward a historic and meaningful landmark into a productive, self-reliant future of service to the city. The Get It Done group has begun coordinating with groups like the Preservation Trust of Vermont and Vermont’s congressional delegates while growing their list of supporters.”

Discussion at the work session made it apparent that neither city councilors nor Mayor Weinberger wish to have the building demolished. A firm decision to dedicate about $700,000 to stabilization — to ensuring the building does not fail structurally in the next three to five years — will be made by the council in June. They will consider paths to repair in the future as well — whether to adhere to the plan generated by residents in a transparent public process or to work with private developers to create other uses. The meeting provided cause for patient optimism; more than one councilor spoke in recognition and with respect for the outcome of the public process and the direction for Memorial Auditorium that it indicated.

Thank you to VT Digger, Seven Days, and WCAX for their coverage of this milestone:

VT Digger, “Burlington city leaders wary of Memorial Auditorium price tag as school project looms

Seven Days, “Burlington Council Wants to Save Memorial Auditorium — But Next Steps Unclear

WCAX Channel 3, “What will Burlington do with deteriorating Memorial Auditorium?

CCTV Town Meeting TV video of the work session.

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