Church officials, preservationists respond to cathedral demolition plans

Published: Jan. 15, 2023 at 6:42 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington’s Development Review Board last week officially signed off on the demolition permit for the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Channel 3′s Kiana Burks spoke with those for and against the demolition about the building’s next steps.

The ruling was bad news for preservationists but a win for the parish, which wants to de-sanctify the property through demolition before its sale. An undisclosed buyer is currently under contract to purchase the cathedral, and part of the deal is that the church must go.

“The terms of the contract is for the buildings to be cleared. So, the cathedral building needs to be demolished,” said John Caulo, a consultant for the parish. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Church leadership also says they want to guarantee that the building won’t be used for any secular purposes. “It’s where people were baptized, had funerals, and got married. And that’s a concept that not everyone will agree, may not even understand,” Caulo said. “In the end, this was the church’s decision.”

Historians, preservationists, and architects spoke out against the planned demolition. They believe the building should be re-purposed to preserve its architectural and historic value. “It’s not 50 years old yet, but it’s certainly designed by famous people. I think it would be a shame to let that green space go, that bit of history when the opportunity to do adaptive reuse exists,” said Ron Wanamaker with Preservation Burlington. He says the city should know the purchaser’s plans for the site before allowing it to be cleared. “There’s no plan for development right now. So, demolition -- and it’ll just be another empty lot a block away from the pit... There are at least six other recent adaptive reuses of churches in Vermont.” Wanamaker says one church was turned into a food shelf for folks experiencing homelessness.

Despite the pushback, the DRB decided that zoning rules trumped the emotional sentiments, and the cathedral’s historic significance couldn’t factor into its deliberations due to a state law that limits the review of houses of worship.

“This is really not about them. This is about the church having the right to deconsecrate and remove the sacred space.” Caulo said. He says while it’s been suggested by members of the community that it could be repurposed, he believes that’s not in the best interest of the parish.

With the DRB signing off on demolition, a 30-day appeal window has opened. As of right now, preservationists say they have no firm plans to appeal the demolition. Instead, they hope to negotiate with the new owners.

Related Stories:

Burlington DRB approves controversial demolition of church

Demolition permit delayed for downtown Burlington church

Parishioners make second attempt to demolish Burlington church

Closed Burlington church under contract to be sold

Vermont Catholic church seeks demolition of former cathedral

Burlington’s Immaculate Conception Church going on the market

Burlington churches merge

Faithful save and renovate Burlington church

Burlington Catholics to discuss possibility of church merger