Creating a healthy heartbeat in downtown Burlington

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The heart of any city beats in its downtown. It’s the central point that historically ties all parts of a city to local government, commerce, churches, libraries, public services, transportation and information. So a strong heartbeat downtown is essential to the lifeblood of a thriving city. Ensuring a healthy heartbeat in downtown Burlington is the essence of the visionary 7 in 7 development strategy that is part of a long-term strategic plan created by the Burlington Downtown Corporation and approved by Burlington City Council. The 7 in 7 encompasses a set of goals to be achieved from 2019 to 2026 geared toward building a vibrant, diverse and innovative downtown neighborhood that will be a hub for entertainment, food, the arts and creativity that ties our community together.

Some of the ideas contained in the 7 in 7 are in place or in motion. Venues like Smitty’s Ice Cream, Valerio’s Italian restaurant, Burlington Beer Works, The Blend and Co. The Company Shops Nighttime Cafe, GeGe’s The Neighbor Cupcakery, Occasions, Wayne’s Attic, The Front Street Bottle Shop, The Glass Angel, Bella’s, Steam Junction, Perrsnickety Books, The Owl and Rabbit Gallery, Danny’s Cafe, Boston Sandwich Shop and the already legendary Zack’s Hot Dogs shape the core of what downtown hopes to become — a place people go to — and return to — to have good times.

But there is still much more to do in order to keep the heart not only in working order but in strong condition moving forward.

First and foremost, the non-profit Burlington Downtown Corporation hopes to expand  development efforts from downtown into walkable properties and neighborhoods while creating better connections to residents through sidewalks, greenways, engagemetn spaces, public art and signage.

Perhaps the most significant goal on the list is something I’ve heard people in Burlington talk about for the past 30 years — moving the historic depot and reopening Main Street. This would spur development on both sides of the railroad track, reconnect East and West Burlington and remove a symbolic obstacle to a downtown fully engaged with the entire community.  The depot has been moved multiple times in its history, the most recent a few decades ago when the city attempted to develop a pedestrian mall downtown. As waa the case with most urban pedestrian malls — it failed, leaving the downtown vacant and largely abandoned for nearly two decades. Burlington residents have long called for a reopening of Main Street. It will take some doing in conjunction with the city of Burlington and the state DOT, but this is the first time it has appeared on any kind of planning list in a long time.

Other goals in the 7 in 7 plan include:

Establishing downtown as the essential go-to spot for fun by creating an arts and entertainment district with a focus on great food, music, theater, arts, maker spaces and cultural events. Look for more updates soon on the Burlington Food Hall, which is going into the former Company Shops Market and at least one new restaurant announcement.

The heart of the heart will be an events center and plaza designed as a central gathering place downtown. It will be a permanent home for popular events like Fourth Friday, the annual Maker Faire and the St. Patrick’s Day Festival. It will be the site for performances, conferences and weddings nestled amid multiple development opportunities.

Encourage renovation or new construction of existing empty sites downtown geared toward upper-floor residential apartments or offices and lower floor restaurant, retail or entertainment venues. Plans are in discussion to turn the corner building at Worth and Davis Streets into something like this.

As restaurant and retail opportunities grow a greater residential footprint downtown will be needed with more diverse housing options such as townhomes or urban lofts. The BDC will help generate new construction and meet the housing needs of the future. The May Hosiery Lofts, now taking residents, is a solid start.

Ultimately, the BDC wants to position downtown Burlington as an innovation village by capitalizing on our designation as a Maker City and upgrading our infrastructure to meet the digital demands of businesses today and in the future.

But getting the entire city and community connected to its heart is essential. To read more posts about the past, present and future of Burlington’s downtown click here.

 

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