Case Study No. 61
Prepared by Ron Redmond, Executive Director, Church Street Marketplace.
The City of Burlington wanted to create a commercially viable center of pedestrian activity in the downtown area.
What began as a one-day experiment blossomed into one of the most successful and widely emulated urban pedestrian malls in the country. The redevelopment of the downtown area that eventually included the Church Street Marketplace began in the years of urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 1960s. Burlington, VT sought to revitalize its downtown area during this time.
In January 1959, major urban renewal projects were approved for downtown Burlington and two through streets were permanently closed. In July 1970, the business community hosted a one-day street fair on Church Street to explore the feasibility of a multi-block, open-air pedestrian mall in the heart of the city. An estimated 15,000+ people took part in the day’s festivities. A second midsummer street fair the following year was a full week long, entailed traffic rerouting, increased public transportation, and created outdoor retail displays, and temporary aesthetic enhancements on Church Street. The fair attracted 50,000 people downtown.
In 1976, the City of Burlington received $1.6 million from the federal government for the construction of a 400-space parking garage near Church Street. Burlington was awarded design and planning money after being chosen as an auto-restricted zone demonstration site by the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA), which is now called the Federal Transit Administration. The city turned down the funding, partly because stipulations attached to it would have required the city to repeat a significant portion of the planning that had already been completed. In a series of actions during 1978-1979, Burlington officials appealed to UMTA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development Agency, and Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service for financial support for a mall concept. The name “Church Street Marketplace” was chosen. A new, one-level mall design was unveiled and in May 1979, the Church Street Steering Committee applied to UMTA for a $5.4 million grant. The grant was awarded in June.
In a special election in August, city voters approved the creation of the Church Street Marketplace District and Commission, but failed by the slimmest of margins to pass a $1.5 million bond issue with the required two-thirds of the vote. The bond issue was needed to fund the city’s share of the Marketplace construction costs. Acting on what appeared to be increasing public support, Mayor Paquette asked for another election and, in October, voters passed the bond issue with the required two-thirds majority. In 1980, the Church Street Marketplace Commission was formed in January. In March, the Marketplace Commission approved the final plans for Church Street.
Construction of the Church Street Marketplace pedestrian mall began. Simultaneous with the startup of construction, CCTA bus routes through the city center were also rerouted.
The Church Street Marketplace opened in September, 1981, as a culmination of a 10-year collaborative effort between Burlington’s business community, City Hall, city residents, and the State and national governments.
The Church Street Marketplace has been called “the gem in the crown” of Burlington. Framed by two National Registry historic districts, this four-block jewel in the heart of the city has recently celebrated its Emerald Anniversary, marking 20 years as a nationwide role model for downtown development.
Today, more than 20 years after its completion in September 1981, the original vision has become an exciting reality that is a touchstone for downtown redevelopment nationwide. The Marketplace draws 3 million visitors to downtown Burlington each year, fueling the City’s economic engine and effectively meeting the challenge of suburban “sprawl” that threatens to damage precious natural environment and the vitality and livability of our downtown centers.
Both the Church Street Marketplace and the City of Burlington have consistently garnered nationwide acclaim for quality, both in the form of awards and of citations in national media. Burlington has been listed near the top of a wide range of “Top Ten Cities” lists in recent years—and the community’s vibrant downtown and its centerpiece pedestrian Marketplace are frequently cited for their essential roles in making Burlington distinctive. Some examples of the acclaim the City of Burlington has received are listed below.
Ron Redmond, Executive Director
Church Street Marketplace
2 Church Street, Suite 2J
Burlington, Vermont 05401