BURLINGTON, VT – Over 200 housing units and a hotel could be on the horizon for Burlington, but the potential project may come at the expense of a historical landmark.
The Memorial Auditorium, built in 1926 to honor World War I veterans, was closed down in 2016 due to structural issues. While city councilors are open to new housing, they are determined not to let Burlington’s rich history be forgotten.
Developer Eric Farrell of Farrell Properties expressed enthusiasm about the housing project during Monday’s City Council meeting. The Mayor was granted the authority to sign a letter of intent with two local developers. Farrell, a Burlington native, said, “I lived here all my life, and there’s enough talent in our community to transform this block.”
The project’s location, the Gateway Block, is nestled between Main Street, South Winooski Avenue, South Union Street, and College Street. Currently, the block is home to the Central Fire Station, the Fletcher Free Library, the United Church of Christ, and the historic Memorial Auditorium.
Councilor Gene Bergman, representing Ward 2, pointed out the financial challenges of redeveloping the area. The developers have ambitious plans, including constructing 200+ housing units and a 100-room hotel with underground parking, aiming to address the city’s housing crisis.
However, concerns over the Memorial Auditorium’s historical significance have been raised. Councilor Bergman stressed the importance of a significant veteran memorial associated with the development project.
According to the letter of intent, if the Memorial Auditorium is torn down, a central public assembly and activity space would take its place. Developers are considering their options and have not yet committed to demolition. Farrell stated, “If it’s not the existing building, there ought to be a memorial somehow woven into the design of the block.”
Developers have assured that the library and church won’t be affected, but the Fire Department may need to relocate. As of now, there is no estimated completion date for the project. Instead, developers are focused on reaching a development agreement with the City Council, with the hope of finalizing it by the end of next March.
If the plan receives approval, city officials will explore zoning changes required to accommodate the project. The potential development is met with both excitement and a determination to preserve Burlington’s historical legacy.