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.