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CityPlace Bringing Housing Back to Burlington, Vt.'s Urban Renewal Zone

Wed January 04, 2023 - Northeast Edition #2
WCAX-TV & Seven Days

Once complete, CityPlace will consist of two buildings of about 10 stories. (Rendering courtesy of CityPlace Burlington)
Once complete, CityPlace will consist of two buildings of about 10 stories. (Rendering courtesy of CityPlace Burlington)

Concrete is being poured at CityPlace, downtown Burlington, Vt.'s largest housing project, where preparations are under way to build hundreds of units. For some, the project evokes memories of what this part of the city was like decades ago. Now, it is undergoing yet another transformation.

The latest project will include 427 units of housing and tens of thousands of square footage of business space. Once complete, CityPlace will consist of two buildings of about 10 stories. Affordable units managed by the Champlain Housing Trust also are part of the plan, along with ground-level retail, 422 parking spaces, and a rooftop restaurant and observation deck, according to Seven Days, a Burlington news service.

The construction will replace the old Town Center Mall that was demolished a few years ago. But before the mall and other commercial buildings were there, the area was part of a large, residential neighborhood. With this latest project, the city hopes this will again become a place to live, work and shop downtown.

"Everything from that neighborhood is gone, so if I name a landmark, you aren't going to know where it is because it's all gone," Monica Farrington said in speaking with Burlington's WCAX-TV.

She grew up living in a house in the city's old Italian neighborhood near the site. In addition, her grandmother owned a 20-room house that stood on South Champlain Street.

"It was a wonderful neighborhood," Farrington continued. "Everybody was friendly, everybody knew one another. If you walked up or down the street, you knew the names of the people you ran into or walked by [while they were] sitting out on their porches. It was safe."

But the neighborhood was aging, some of the properties were rundown, and it eventually became a target for urban renewal. With a nationwide program aimed to revitalize blighted neighborhoods and spur the development of modern commercial buildings, a local vote was taken to demolish every home in the neighborhood, WCAX-TV noted in its Jan. 2 report.

"The news of the urban renewal was devastating to my family and to everybody else," Farrington recalled. "They all started worrying about where they were going to go to, [and] how much money they were going to be given for their [properties]."

More than 150 families on 27 acres ended up having to move. Their homes were replaced by the mall, a bank, a hotel and other large commercial buildings that went up over the next few decades. Sections of Pine and St. Paul streets also were severed to make way for the mall.

Brian Pine, Burlington's director of its Community & Economic Development Office (CEDO), told WCAX-TV that urban renewal did, indeed, bring economic vitality to the city.

"There's no way to bring back what was [here before] or to make up for what was done 50 years ago, but the redevelopment and the reconnecting of those two streets — Pine and St. Paul — is a significant benefit and hopefully a way to make amends," he explained.

What Was Old is New Again

Now, Burlington's downtown is undergoing a new metamorphosis for the third time in approximately 50 years. Last fall, construction began on "The Pit," the nickname given to the land after the mall was torn down.

Ironically, one of the CityPlace partners behind the development is Dave Farrington, the nephew of Monica Farrington, who saw her family home bulldozed here a half-century ago.

"It's nice that it's kind of coming full circle, that the area is going to get the roads back," Dave Farrington told WCAX-TV. "We are standing in Pine Street and Bank off Cherry over there. [Eventually, this will] become a neighborhood of 600 or 700 people."

With increased urban renewal, protections such as the rehabilitation tax credit were created to ensure that families are better supported if they are forced from their homes, he noted.

Pine also believes that where urban renewal failed in protecting the cultural memories of that area of the city in the past, it helped strengthen the resolve to protect historic places and buildings moving forward.

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