What's next for the Memorial Auditorium in Burlington?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) An old building in downtown Burlington could come back to life.

"You might as well take the money out and burn it, for all we are getting out of it,” said Tim McGrath, a Burlington resident.

It's a historic and vacant building eating up $100,000 of city dollars a year.

"Buildings are funny things, if you don't use them, they fall apart,” McGrath said.

McGrath was one of many at an interactive session at Burlington City Hall Thursday night. He says ideas presented for the Memorial Auditorium have potential.

For months, city officials like Neale Lunderville with the Community Economic Development Office did research coming up with options for the four-story building. Renovations include upgrades to the auditorium, making the building handicapped accessible and adding an entertainment center to the bottom floor.

"The city really believes that we need to modernize Memorial and make it a community hub for generations to come," Lunderville said.

Those options range from not doing anything at all to upgrading the building and the entire block it sits on.

"I want to do the superblock simply because of the tax dollars that get invested into it. You get a chance to have more return with housing and additional parking close to downtown is always a good idea," McGrath said.

While the superblock sparked the interest of most, but how to pay for that or any upgrades at all still needs to be ironed out.

Modernizing the 1920s building would cost the city between $33 million and $35 million, depending on if it was city-owned or leased to a private company. An estimated $15 million would come straight from taxpayers.

"It's going to sting your average homeowner pretty bad," McGrath said.

McGrath is a landlord in Burlington and says while it will hurt him and his renters, the city needs a community hub.

"You got to make it a livable city," said McGrath. "If you don't have the amenities, people aren't going to stay. You'll end up in Detroit where you've got huge areas of the city that they are bulldozing because there is nobody there."

City Council members say getting this item on the March ballot is nearly impossible. Especially with taxpayers already paying the tab for projects like the new $70 million high school and the nearly $30 million upgrades to the Burlington water system.

They plan to take their time figuring out the logistics and have the plan ready for Town Meeting Day in 2020.