- Courtesy of Freeman French Freeman
- The planned corner of Bank and St. Paul streets
For years, Burlington residents have been pushing the city to make progress on two important goals: improved walkability, which will reduce its carbon footprint; and a healthy mix of locally owned businesses, to serve not just tourists but the people who actually live downtown.
The new CityPlace Burlington project "has the potential to solve both problems," according to University of Vermont economics professor Jane Knodell, a former Burlington city councilor.
In the decades she served the city, Knodell says she heard from many Burlingtonians who wanted to see more stores selling "the daily essentials of life." And she listened to shop owners complain about sporadic foot traffic — heavy in the summer and fall, and on snowy winter weekends, but too light the rest of the time.
To keep local stores alive year-round, she says, "You need the demand. The demand has to be there." More downtown dwellers would provide it.
Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, agrees. "If we really want to improve the walkability of Burlington," she says, "we need to have as many people living downtown as possible."
Bringing Back the Neighborhood
The new CityPlace Burlington project now under consideration would add 426 units of housing downtown, at least 85 of which would be classified as "affordable." That's an estimated 600 to 700 new residents, according to Dave Farrington, one of three local developers now managing the project. Also part of the plan is street-level retail space. The goal is for the buildings to host a mix of businesses to serve those who live nearby.
Devine points out that the site of the new development used to be part of a functioning neighborhood; it was demolished to make space for an indoor mall and parking garage during urban renewal in the late 1960s. CityPlace would bring those streets back to life.
"I use the Sesame Street analogy. You need the grocer, the librarian, the postal carrier," she says. "It just makes for a much more dynamic environment." Devine notes that the newcomers are likely to engage in the community, participating in fundraisers such as the annual Sleep Out that supports Spectrum Youth & Family Services, or volunteering for the Vermont City Marathon.
Knodell suggests that the people who move into the CityPlace apartments would likely be a more diverse group than the shoppers coming in to patronize downtown stores. Diversity of age, race, occupation and socio-economic status "brings the vitality that great cities have," she says.
More People, Fewer Cars?
Some of the new residents of CityPlace will likely have cars — the plans include 422 new parking spaces. But living downtown means that they may not need to own a car, especially if they work from home or in the city.
The development will encourage residents to use alternative forms of transportation; it will include parking spaces for vehicles owned by CarShare Vermont, which can be easily reserved for the occasional out-of-town errand.
The site is adjacent to the new Downtown Transit Center on St. Paul Street, which offers access to bus routes around Chittenden County, as well as link express service around the state. There will also be 300 bike parking spots on the property.
An Asset to the Community
In addition to providing more housing, the development has some exciting features of benefit to all Burlingtonians, not just the ones lucky enough to live there. These include:
- A rooftop restaurant and observation deck, open to the public, with a view of the city and Lake Champlain.
- 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of meeting, coworking and community space that will be accessible to all.
- Pine and St. Paul streets reconnected between Bank and Cherry.
- Broader sidewalks, new bike lanes and a larger greenbelt with trees.
- Public art installations that will beautify the buildings and support local artists.
- A state-of-the-art stormwater management system that will help reduce and filter the flow of runoff to Lake Champlain.
- Solar panels, green roofs and energy-efficiency features that will cut utility demand and reduce the buildings' carbon footprint; both buildings will be LEED Gold certified.
The new plans eliminate proposed commercial office space and a hotel. Both changes make the development better adapted for the post-pandemic era, according to Knodell. "In a way, the delays have helped us," she says.
A Time to Build
Burlington residents and business owners are eager to move forward with improving the three-acre vacant lot in the center of downtown, now jokingly known as "the hole" or "the pit." More than 900 people have signed a petition at cityplaceburlington.com urging the city to break ground on the project as soon as possible.
Some have also left comments:
Said Kellie Parks: "It's time for trusted LOCAL development/construction professionals to take this project to its long-overdue completion. They are personally invested in this community with the experience to finally make CityPlace a reality."
"Lifelong resident and want my town vibrant again," noted Steve Sweeney.
"It's a good plan; LETS GO!!" urged Mike Godfrey.
Devine and Knodell echo that sense of urgency. Knodell says that the city has been preparing for this project for years. There's a reason the new transit hub is so close by, for example. It's time to move forward, she says. "We're ready for this."