Keelan: Burlington’s Hole in the Ground

The Proposed City Place on Cherry Street in Burlington is just a hole in the ground – in part because of Burlington’s inability to provide public safety.

by Don Keelan

For many of us in southwestern Vermont, and maybe elsewhere, Burlington was the place to go and spend not just a day but a week. The Queen City is blessed with a spectacular geographic location between two ancient mountain ranges, the Green and the Adirondack Mountains.

Not enough beauty? How about miles of waterfront bordering the sixth largest lake in America, Lake Champlain: nature’s connector between Lake George to the south and the St. Lawrance Seaway to the north.

What nature didn’t provide to Burlington, its citizens did in prior years with incredible foresight. The preeminent city on the lake became home to a world-class university, liberal arts colleges, an international airport and home to the Vermont Air National Guard, and principal U.S. and State government offices took up residency. Also, some of Vermont’s largest nonprofit organizations call Burlington home, including UVM Medical Center, Vermont Housing and Finance Agency, Hunger Free Vermont, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, headquarters of the Catholic Diocese of Vermont, and scores of others.

Burlington’s business and government leaders decided to make the city an even greater shopping destination not too many years ago. They did so by closing down vehicular traffic that traversed several blocks on Church Street and made the area into an outside pedestrian shopping mall; the envy of many towns and the delight of visitors and local shop keepers.  River-edge bike and walking paths soon followed.

The City’s proximity to an Interstate highway makes Burlington an international destination with Montreal only 90 minutes away.

The vision for Burlington materialized in the 1980s and 90s, and the city became a mecca for tourists, businesses, and government. The city gained national attention as one of the top ten American locales to retire. And then, about four years ago, the city dug a hole.

The physical hole is commonly referred to as City Place. The hole is the public face of a proposed mega real estate venture consisting of hundreds of residences and thousands of square feet of office and retail space. The price tag is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, the site is a fair-size crater surrounded by fencing. 

If this unsightly scar was not bad enough, the city leaders metaphorically continued digging. For many of us non-residents, the question is why?

The most recent “excavation” was several weeks ago when the city council in a tied vote failed to appoint the City’s two-year acting police chief, Jon Murad, as permanent chief.  Murad’s credentials are impeccable: why he would want to lead a police force that has been decimated and maligned is a mystery.

Once one of America’s most respected police departments of 104 sworn officers, it now has only 58, with more officers preparing to resign. No city in Vermont has merchants engaging private security personnel to escort their employees at night, except Burlington. Two major retailers are leaving the city; the “hole” just got deeper.

As long as the elected leaders and others in the city continue to lead and govern solely through the lens of poverty, racism, homelessness, climate change, anti-business, and policing, the once one of America’s favorite cities to live, work, or visit will become a “no go place.” 

When he was Chief of Police in Rutland, Vermont, Colonel James Baker (VSP Ret.) often noted, “Public safety is tantamount to economic development.” What is needed is for the Burlington city leaders to “stop digging the hole deeper” and get back to leading.

Personally, when I was involved with the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Professional Responsibility Board, attending continuing CPA education courses, or visiting a daughter at UVM, a stay in Burlington was a treat. I could not wait to make the two 1/2-hour drive. The city had everything one could wish; it was indeed a jewel. It is time for the city’s leaders to break out the polish and shine their jewel. Do not allow it to continue to tarnish.    

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

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15 replies »

  1. It is tragic. Burlington feels and looks like Newark. Grafilthy everywhere, drug peddlers, transients with mental disorders…I used to enjoy the quirky vibe often found in college towns. Now it’s shabby and discordant and oh so woke. Broken windows policing works, but is no longer possible. Broken spirits multiply as Vermonters wait for the next pronouncement dividing us along racial or social or gender lines… nope. I don’t go there anymore.

    • Ditto. Live thirty miles north. Burlington was an asset. No longer. I stay away. Many friends and neighbors feel the same.

  2. Burlington should be renamed in honor of their beloved pie-eyed piper, and Supreme Leader. Maybe Bernieton, or Sandersburgh, how about Saint Sandersville, or qnd I like this best, San Franbernieville !

  3. 10 years ago Burlington was a fun, lively city. Now it’s a dying progressive dump with Vaxx Passports, rampant homelessness and drug abuse, insane political correctness and soon legalized prostitution.

    This is where progressiveness leaves us. There is not one republican involved with the city government. Tells you a lot.

    • There are some voices in the wilderness. (…think John the Baptist alerting the Jews) Christopher-Aaron Felker has run for the 3rd ward with messaging including his fear that this beloved flagship city on the lake is in a head long plunge toward self destruction.

  4. I was born in Burlington but never lived there until a couple of years ago, when life circumstances put me there briefly. I guess I caught it well past peak. Besides all the Covid hysteria, what I remember most from my first summer there were the loud and vaguely scary BLM marches up and down Church Street nearly every day. (Whatever happened to those, anyway?)

    Mr. Keelan is right; this is about leadership. We need mature people with backbone who aren’t going to waste taxpayer dollars obsessing about race and “equity” while forgetting the fundamentals–which means preserving the city’s viability through public safety and a functioning economy. The City Place eyesore will be a constant reminder of that.

  5. I recently heard after LL Bean moves that building is coming down too. Why pay the insane property taxes on an empty building. Demolition and repurposing will be trending big for commericial spaces if there is any commerce to be had – ?

  6. The vote to maintain progressive stalemate on the City Council affirms that BTV’s voter base is increasingly made up of subsidized renters, students and deadbeats with no real skin in the game. The city will continue it’s moral, fiscal and law-and-order decline. What a shame. The biggest problem visitors to Burlington would complain about was the lack of parking. That hasn’t been a problem for a while now, since people of quality avoid the place.

  7. Tragedy — like a beloved gone bad; does San Francisco come to mind? ,,,Tijuana perhaps? Will it ever free itself from the present regime and come back? …be the Mecca of the North it once was?

  8. Im sure their voting results have nothing to do with the indoctrination of uvm students…

  9. Ive turned down a lot of business in Burlington in the past 18 months. Now i only go there to have my teeth cleaned. And when i do i carry one on my waist band and one on my ankle. What a shame. The hole stretches far beyond the excavation site….to the city limits and beyond. A true gem of liberalism.

  10. I used to so love Burlington. Before the nasty bikers and the horrible progressives and democrats ruined it. It was alive, vibrant, diverse, active, beautiful and fun! Now it is just dead and ugly. We need to get a ballot item on the ballot to not let students vote in local elections. They shape Burlington with their indoctrinated, anti-analytical, biased, brain washed minds in ways that negatively affect the residents long after their short four year stay. Their lack of experience in life and never having to have had to pay a property tax allows them to impose crushing debt and results from bad policies from irresponsible “leaders” they help get elected on long time constituents with no consequences. They leave disenfranchised residents who are invested in Burlington by living here for decades, not months. They unfortunately fall for the lies the progressives put out to manipulate them and sound like they make sense, but ultimately bring devastating consequences time and again. These current so-called leaders could care less if they priced every native Vermonter out of their homes and replaced them with elitists’ like them. Unfortunately progressives and democrats know how to win. As candidates they have no problem lying, cheating, defaming, stealing and bullying to get their way. They do not, however, know how to govern. And they would have less of a chance of wining without the student vote. It would take about 2500 signatures on petitions but would be worth it to get our voices back. I drive out of Burlington to spend money and I live here. I will never spend money in Burlington and haven’t since 2016. So sad to watch the progressives and democrats trash our once bright and beautiful city. As a native, it is excruciating to witness.

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