What a summer so far! I hope you have been enjoying all of the great weather and great events of the season.
One of my favorite evenings was on July 1, when several hundred people came down to watch the USA - Belgium World Cup match on a large screen set up on the back steps of City Hall. To see Burlingtonians of all ages cheering and grimacing together as that tense overtime game unfolded was to witness the ability of both sports and our public spaces to bring the community together. Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Bridges got it right when he was quoted in the Free Press saying, “This is exactly what parks are for.”
The Parks Burlington Deserves
The parks are also for swimming, softball, tennis, basketball, birthday parties, picnicking, and so much more. Thanks to the hard work of Director Bridges and his team and the commitment of the voters, our parks today are in better shape than they have been in a long time. At the end of June 2014, we marked the completion of 61 Penny for Parks improvement projects in the last two years, far exceeding the ambitious goals we announced in the summer of 2012 when we launched the push to invest underutilized Penny for Parks funds. The projects have included major renovations – such as the rebuilding of the Leddy Park softball field, overhauling the boathouse, and the rebuilding of the Calahan soccer fields – and small, high-impact investments, like the replacement of the much-loved but previously worn-out bench swings on the Waterfront Park boardwalk.
The Penny for Parks push culminated with the re-opening of Roosevelt Park – a remarkable project that involved new partnerships and major private contributions. The overhaul included a transformation of an underutilized pavilion and storage building into a teen academic center and a complete renovation of two tennis courts and two basketball courts. The new teen center will be programmed and managed by the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, and the remodeling was accomplished with a $100,000 donation of materials and construction service from Bob Miller’s company, R.E.M. Development Company, and through additional construction labor donated by Bill Bissonette. An anonymous private donor covered much of the cost of the courts, which are now being used regularly by the King Street Center’s award-winning Kids on the Ball tennis program.
The revitalization of our parks system is far from over. Over the months ahead we will break ground on the expansion of the bike path, the construction of an outstanding new skate park, and major improvements of Waterfront Park. We will also soon complete the first-ever Parks Master Plan, a strategy that will guide and maximize the City’s parks investments over the next decade. The vision of a great parks system that the voters supported when they created the Penny for Parks program in 2008 and through their votes for waterfront and bike path investments in 2012 and 2014 is well on the way to becoming a reality.
A Better Parking System
A year ago I was asked to raise the parking rates. Although it was clear that the Traffic Fund had looming financial issues, I said no because the Department of Public Works had no real plan to improve the parking experience.
That has now changed. Under the leadership of new Public Works Director Chapin Spencer and Assistant Director Pat Buteau, and through an unprecedented collaboration with CEDO and the BBA, we are now implementing a robust effort to make our parking system more convenient in numerous ways, make our garages safer and cleaner, decrease the number of cars circling the downtown looking for empty parking spaces (a practice that creates traffic and wastes energy), reduce the number of parking tickets we write (to stop unnecessarily alienating visitors to our downtown), and improve the financial health of the system to make much-needed and long-neglected investments in our aging parking garages.
I now fully support this plan. The Church Street Marketplace Commission also unanimously endorsed it, joining the BBA in the belief that these changes will help downtown businesses. When the plan went before the Public Works Commission in July, no member of the public spoke out against it, and the Commission approved the plan unanimously.
You should start to see positive changes soon – like meters that accept payment with credit cards throughout the core of the downtown. While some fees will be going up (for the first time since 2009) and the hours of parking enforcement will be extended on October 1, know that a large supply of free parking remains within a few blocks of all downtown locations, and the two hour free parking program remains in place unchanged in City garages.
Our parking discussion is not over. An efficient and convenient parking system is a key element of a healthy downtown. We have ongoing parking studies and data-collection efforts underway, and I expect that my Administration will be proposing additional changes to our parking policies in 2015 and beyond.
Join the Mayor’s Book Group
“Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come,” said U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen on June 10, 1964, days before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
This past July 2 we observed the 50th anniversary of that momentous law at City Hall. The anniversary was a welcome opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices and achievements of the Civil Rights Movement at a time when we are working hard to make Burlington a more inclusive and just community.
Through a new partnership with the University of Vermont Humanities Center, we have an opportunity to explore the story of the Civil Rights Act more deeply by reading and discussing together An Idea Whose Time Has Come by Todd Purdum. UVM will purchase the first 200 copies of the book for anyone who would like to participate, and we are planning a fall community discussion.
I just started the book. This is no dry history – it is a powerful and exciting account of one of the most significant events in American history and makes for great summer reading. Email email@example.com if you would like a copy and to get updates about future Mayor’s Book Group readings that will engage other issues of importance to our community.
As always, I invite you to join me and share your ideas and concerns about the City at the Bagel Café on Wednesday mornings from 8:00-9:00 am. To stay informed about City progress, visit www.Facebook.com/MiroBTV. I hope to see you soon.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.