Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Wednesday that local philanthropist Tony Pomerleau is donating $500,000 to jump-start renovations in Burlington City Hall Park.
Shortly after the press conference, a trio of park hangers-on weighed in on the plans for a new splash fountain, performance stage, walkways and outdoor cafe. They were drinking and smoking on the back steps of City Hall in a cold, late-afternoon drizzle and looking out at the square of green that serves as downtown's outdoor living room.
A new fountain would be great, said George Josler, but "you have to have a sign that says: 'No Bums Bathing.'"
He and two friends, all of them formerly homeless, but now with secure housing, didn't disagree with the subtle yet clear sentiments city leaders expressed at the announcement, revealing hopes that the renovation will bring wholesome activity to the park and discourage fights, drunkenness and drugs.
The park habitues liked the idea of more events and more police presence. The current scene at the park isn't as bad as some might think, though, they said. "Nobody's injecting things here," Josler said. "Nobody's snorting."
The big redo is scheduled to start in summer 2017.
The public conversation about the downtown green space goes back decades and has often touched on the park's split personality - sometimes sketchy and scary, sometimes happy and vibrant. The gift from Pomerleau could help bring out the positive and the lively.
During the press conference, held at Burlington City Arts, children filled the room, marking Pomerleau's long history of giving to non-profits such as the Greater Burlington YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington. Pomerleau and his wife, Rita Pomerleau, made the gift to the park in memory of their daughter Anne Marie Pomerleau, who was a teacher.
Their names will be engraved in the new fountain.
The gift pushes the approximately $2.5 million project closer to reality, announced a grateful Mayor Weinberger. "Thank you Tony for so many contributions to this community," the mayor said to the 98-year-old Pomerleau. The self-made insurance and shopping-mall magnate sat in the front row, looking dapper in a blue seersucker jacket and grey slacks. He did not miss the opportunity to reel off a few quips. "I've got a feeling you're going to come back for more," Pomerleau said to Weinberger.