Monday, October 1, 2007

Burlington's Waterfront "Renewal"

Two commissioned articles praising the development of Burlington's waterfront appeared in the New York Times in recent months. In case you missed it, there's an article - "Finding Renewal in a Waterfront Renaissance" - in yesterday's (Sunday's - 30 September) travel section about the 'revitalised waterfront' - it's boilerplate marketing from the city's Community Economic and Development Office, and arguably, hints at a future expanded waterfront development, in addition to the revamped look of downtown's Church Street Marketplace. The article was freelanced by Marialisa Calta (website) - Vermont transplant, erstwhile newspaper reporter, journalism prof at UVM, food writer. It's a typical NYT travel piece, touting touristy venues; but it's a PR article of which the Chamber of Commerce would be proud.

IN 1974, when Art Cohn took a job as a commercial diver on the Burlington, Vt., waterfront, “it was a no man’s land: oil tanks, barbed wire everywhere, scrap yards and junk,” he said. Now, as executive director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, which is dedicated to the lake’s maritime history, Mr. Cohn can stand on the deck of the museum’s schooner and survey a waterfront teaming with cyclists, joggers, boaters and tourists.

“It’s a completely different place,” he said. “The transformation is extraordinary.”

Burlington — which, with about 39,000 residents, is Vermont’s largest city — is rediscovering an asset long hidden in plain sight: Lake Champlain, a waterway that transported people and merchandise and, said Mr. Cohn, brought the city into existence.
In the second half of the 19th century, Mr. Cohn said, the lumber business thrived, and waterfront acreage was created with fill “just to have more land on which to pile more lumber.” But by the 1930s and ’40s, the waterfront had become primarily a storage place for oil tanks. Melinda Moulton, a local entrepreneur who bought land there in the early 1980s, remembers touring sites with a squirt gun in hand, to keep the rats at bay.
That all began to change around 1988, when the Waterfront Revitalization Plan — heavy on public use, environmental consciousness and careful private development — was created.

All true, but wait....
The city’s future revitalization plans may include an outdoor skating rink, a public market and public transit by rail and water. Currently, public transportation to the waterfront is limited but handy: a free bus with a route that shuttles from the lake to the Church Street Marketplace and on to the University of Vermont.

With all of the biking and jogging and dining going on, it is sometimes easy to forget that there is an entire lake out there — 120 miles long and 12 miles wide — waiting to be explored.

Not only explored, but developed...

The second article appeared last March in the NYT's real estate section, by another freelancer, Wendy Knight: A Waterfront That Has Left Its Wasteland Days Behind

She must have just C/P'd the press releases from Westlake and Marriott, eh? It's just a phony PR piece with a lot of inaccuracies.

Public and private investments have turned Burlington, Vermont’s once-dilapidated waterfront into the city’s jewel.
To date, 20 public or private buildings have been built or renovated on or near the waterfront for a total public-private investment that exceeds $128 million, according to Michael Monte, the director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office.

Even from the article's title, the implication is that our waterfront, once a 'wasteland,' will be improved by the current development. (T.S. Eliot she ain't.)

[Interesting detail about the author (from her website): "Wendy Knight is a senior public relations consultant with over fifteen years of experience in developing and implementing strategic communication plans, branding strategies and press campaigns. Her clients have included pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, adventure retreats, environmental organizations and restaurant groups."] So much for investigative journalistic integrity. (And we wonder why workers are leaving the Free Press.)

No real mention of the natural lake or the natural wetlands - according to CEDO, ideal for development. Already the Westlake complex has been nearly developed, but there are inherent problems with the developers, who want to renege on their committment to building affordable housing on the property.
To date, 20 public or private buildings have been built or renovated on or near the waterfront for a total public-private investment that exceeds $128 million, according to Michael Monte, the director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office.
Burlington prides itself on careful development. “Vermont has a reputation for its rigorous permitting process,” said Jay Canning, a local hotel developer and operator and one of the owners of the hotel, which is franchised by the Marriott Corporation. “You have to be very determined to get something done.”
“When they came to us we said 100 percent we’re with you,” said Mr. Monte, who devised an unusual financing arrangement with the Westlake developers.
“The city was absolutely instrumental,” Mr. Scheuer [developer/owner of Westlake] said.
Development along the waterfront in this city of 38,000 is often fraught with lengthy public input. “We have a very engaged citizenry,” said Sharon Bushor, a City Council member.
Many residents feel that they are entitled in perpetuity to water views — “so anything on the water’s edge is going to have tremendous public scrutiny,” said Melinda Moulton, co-owner of Main Street Landing, a local developer.

It's not just views, but access....the waterfront belongs to the access for all is tantamount. That's why it's crucial to support Waterfront Watchdogs and Citizens for a Liveable City!

The remaining waterfront eyesore is the Moran Plant, a former coal-fired electric plant at the northern edge of Waterfront Park. Except for a nonprofit sailing center that occupies a fraction of the space, the building has been vacant for 20 years.

In March 2006, the city received more than 10,000 responses to a survey of residents on what to do with the site, Ms. Bushor said. The survey’s results, and several lively public hearings, suggested that most residents thought the Moran Plant should be used for a mixed-use project accessible to the public.

The latest vision, Mr. Monte said, encompasses a range of uses, including an outdoor skating rink, a rooftop restaurant and a museum. There is no timetable for development, and the city is reviewing the public input and determining the next steps.

Ms. Bushor said she believed that the incremental approach to development had served the community well. Because once land is developed, she said, “it’s gone.”

What's not written in this article are plans by the city and developers to move along the waterfront to the urban reserve area north of the current skatepark; I hear plans are to relocate the King Street ferry terminal and a new hotel complex there.

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