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From the Deputy Publisher: Talk of the Town


Published February 8, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

The former Greater Burlington YMCA building in downtown Burlington - COURTESY OF ROB SWANSON
  • Courtesy Of Rob Swanson
  • The former Greater Burlington YMCA building in downtown Burlington

Does the former Greater Burlington YMCA building on College Street, now covered in graffiti, look like a crime scene? Paula Routly likened it to one in her "From the Publisher" column on January 18.

"Once a symbol of a healthy community," she wrote, "the building is now a glaring illustration of what ails Burlington."

Judging by the overwhelming response the piece generated on Facebook, people have strong feelings about the former Y, though they're split on what, if anything, it says about the state of the city.

According to Facebook, nearly 20,000 people "engaged" with Routly's column there, by reading, liking, sharing or commenting on it. The only Seven Days piece that's generated a bigger reaction on social media this year was a story about a car with a Vermont license plate that reads: "UNVAXXD."

The Facebook post about Routly's column has drawn nearly 700 comments. They're mostly what you'd expect — people sounding off about crime; picking fights with each other; or blaming the mayor, Progressive city councilors or the building's out-of-state owner. There are a few surprises, though. For starters, a number of commenters say they approve of the old Y's new look.

"I love the graffiti," wrote one. "I hope it stays, it's colorful and interesting."

"The graffiti on brick looks really cool," wrote another. "If it's not covering up an existing mural or signage, what's the harm?"

Really? None of the emails or letters to the editor we received in response to the piece made this point. Maybe the Facebook post reached a different audience?

One woman was shocked to read Routly's take in Seven Days, a newspaper she describes as "too liberal for my liking." "I was relieved that someone at the helm of this paper, in particular, that rubs me the wrong way in practically every article, called out the crime called graffiti, the continuing negative consequences of homelessness and the overall [blight] that has taken over."

More shocking, to me, are the moments of genuine human connection that sometimes happen in large, polarized comment threads like this one. A woman noted that her father ran the snack bar at the Y from 1955 to 1975. Someone replied: "When [someone] asks the question 'What food brings you back to your youth' I always answer the hot dog and cold chocolate milk from the YMCA." He'd stopped there on his walks home from school in the '60s.

The daughter of the snack bar guy responded, "So meaningful to hear this. Thank you." She was touched. Aren't we all?

Several commenters pointed out that the best symbol of what ails the city is the gaping hole in the center of downtown where the Burlington Town Center mall used to be. Indeed, "the Pit" is much larger and more prominent than the old Y.

It's also finally seeing some action: The new, local owners were able to restart construction on the $200 million CityPlace Burlington project in November.

We can only hope the new owners of the former Y will soon make similar progress. That's something we can all agree on.

Publisher Paula Routly's column will return next week.