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Burlington Re-Opens City Hall Park

October 16, 2020
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
                (802) 734-0617

Burlington Re-Opens City Hall Park

Revived park designed to invite more use with double the seating, accessible pathways, multi-functional central fountain, healthier trees, three stormwater gardens, and more

Burlington, VT – Today, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the re-opening of City Hall Park. The park’s transformation follows an imagining process that first began in 2011, years of public engagement and design work, and a year of construction, all aimed at bringing more life to this central public space in the heart of Burlington’s downtown.

“Jane Jacobs wrote that, ‘City parks need the boon of life conferred on them,’ and our primary goal with the transformation of City Hall Park was exactly that – to give it more life,” said Mayor Weinberger. “For many years, City Hall Park was amazing on summer Saturdays with the farmers market, but too often underused at other times. We could see that one of the great strengths of our city is public spaces like this one, and that we could create features that would help more people enjoy it, from a fountain that would be a destination for families, to twice as many benches where people can sit and talk, to spaces to support eating and small gatherings throughout the day. Even as the City works to steer Burlington through the coronavirus emergency, we also remain focused on long-term projects like this one that are an investment in our future. I hope the revived City Hall Park serves as a beacon of hope and renewal in these times.”

Overall, the revived City Hall Park is designed to be greener, more accessible, and better suited to its use in the center of the city. The features of the new City Hall Park include:

  • Gardens: 384 shrubs and 3,435 perennials and ornamental grasses. All of the perennials, grasses, and shrubs were sourced from local growers. Many of them are species native to our region, and will be well-suited to the site, create pollinator habitat, and display color from May through October. The park includes a comprehensive irrigation system that will ensure the long-term health of the trees and turf.
  • Stormwater: Three stormwater gardens to retain and filter stormwater, and one of the gardens includes additional below-ground structures to further hold stormwater during intense storm events. The park also features a seat wall that will help prevent stormwater from discharging onto Main Street and permeable pavers that will allow stormwater to infiltrate into the soil. Overall, the design will result in a 30 percent reduction in peak flow during a 1-year storm event and 52 percent reduction during a 10-year storm event – contributing to a healthier park and healthier Lake Champlain.
  • Trees: 22 new trees, and 48 trees in total, only a slight reduction from the 51 trees formerly in the park. The trees now are planted in healthier soil that will no longer erode in every storm, in enough soil to support them to maturity, and with an eye toward the importance of having a diversity of tree species and ages in the park.
  • Seating: Twice as much seating within the park boundaries, including seatwalls and longer benches made from sustainably sourced wood.
  • Paths: Wider and more accessible pathways that maintain the historic connectivity across the park. The paths are realigned so that they are less steep, support better tree health, and allow for better maintenance.
  • Spaces: Flexible spaces accommodate a variety of activities in the park, from an interactive fountain, to cultural programming, to a terrace and central plaza that could host food service for people to enjoy in the park and bring additional activation to the space.
  • Fountain: A multi-functional fountain that can be used for active play, as well as light and water shows that will add visual impact.
  • Public art: Art installed in the park includes the new Watersheds to the Lake, made from Champlain marble, gold paint, and granite cobble by artists Kat Clear and Tessa O’Brien, which highlights the relationship between Lake Champlain’s health and the impact of human activities along the watersheds that feed it.
  • Landscape: The park design concentrates foot traffic away from grassy areas and creates space for gatherings, including through the use of permeable pavers, and actually reduces the amount of impervious surface in the park from 43 percent in the old park (25 percent hardscape and 18 percent compacted soils) to 32.5 percent in the new park.
  • And more! The park includes a new restroom, lighting, irrigation, utilities, and much more to make it a safe, inviting, and functional space.

 “Parks build community at all times, and that’s even more true in the middle of a pandemic,” said Cindi Wight, Director of Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront. “We are thrilled to be reopening our core downtown park, creating an outdoor green space where our community can gather safely and supporting the outdoor lifestyle that so many Burlingtonians cherish.”

Project Background and Budget

The City Hall Park revitalization is the culmination of an effort that began with hundreds of Burlingtonians participating in the Imagine City Hall Park planning process in 2011, continued with the Great Streets planning process, and included more than 20 public meetings that spanned 2016-2018. Over the course of that process, landscape architects Wagner Hodgson and the City team worked to develop a design for the park that would be inspirational, responsive, and enduring.

Park construction began in July 2019, with a budget of $5.75 million for everything from planning work that began in May 2016 to the remediation of contaminated soils. The City used a combination of grant funds, stormwater revenues, TIF economic development funds, Champlain College payments, and philanthropic contributions secured by the Mayor. City staff performed additional work in-house in order to realize further savings. The funding sources used are virtually all restricted funds that can only be used for capital improvements or downtown infrastructure projects, and overall, the cost of the park to property taxpayers is less than $1 million.

Except for a short delay caused by the pandemic construction shut down, construction went very smoothly, resulting in a rare $125,000 mid-construction budget reduction, and completion of the project with the durable, high-quality finishes that were originally designed but at risk of being cut for budget reasons.

A detailed summary of the project budget is available online.

Dedication of City Hall Park Renovations to Burlington Residents Who Died of Covid-19

The re-opening of City Hall Park comes as Burlington is seven months into a pandemic that has required wearing masks, physical distancing, and many other actions that couldn’t have been imagined at this time last year – including ceasing many of the gatherings that are a core strength of cities and of central public spaces like City Hall Park.

At the re-opening ceremony, Mayor Weinberger announced that the park renovations are dedicated to the Burlington residents who died as a result of Covid-19. “The time is coming when it will be hard to remember this pandemic, its dramatic impact on our lives, and the members of the community who we have lost to it,” Mayor Weinberger said, and unveiled a plaque installed in the park. The plaque reads:

“A comprehensively redesigned City Hall Park re-opened after a year of construction amidst the largest global pandemic in 100 years. At the time of the opening, the City had been living under an emergency order for more than six months, masks were required in all public places, and group gatherings were severely restricted. This park renovation is dedicated to the Burlingtonians who died as a result of the novel Covid-19 coronavirus. In the years to come, as children play in jets of water and crowds assemble to enjoy each other and our city’s great music, food, and events, let us never forget that these joyous scenes are fragile, and that their continuation can only be guaranteed through an ongoing, vigilant commitment to public health and science.”

Support for City Hall Park

The reopening ceremony for City Hall Park included many people who were involved in the vision for the transformed park. Students from King Street Center, a neighbor of the park, were there to countdown as the new fountain officially started for the first time, and other park neighbors and people who worked to create the park shared their reflections on the park transformation. These included:

“I can only think in superlatives when I think about the new City Hall Park,” said Doreen Kraft, Director of Burlington City Arts. “We began the journey to redesign our City's crown jewel 10 years ago with Imagine City Hall Park, and have more than accomplished what we set out to do. This new park allows for a greater diversity of experiences, increased safety and accessibility, greener infrastructure, and more interactive features that will bring us all together in the midst of tremendous art, historic reminders, and verdant beauty.”

“The vitality of City Hall Park reflects the vitality of Burlington,” said Thomas Leavitt, President and CEO of Northfield Savings Bank. “A healthy, safe, inclusive ‘front yard’ for all citizens is essential to our City’s character. We are a vested neighbor and look forward to supporting programming that will enhance access and equity in this beautiful new space.”

“We are honored to have been involved in ushering in a new era for City Hall Park and are excited to see people enjoying the Park once again,” said Jeff Hodgson, Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture. “This is truly the ‘living room’ of the community and we thank all of the people who worked so hard to bring it to fruition.”

“We have learned a great deal in the nearly 40 years since any significant changes were made to City Hall Park,” said V.J. Comai, City Arborist. “We have learned about the importance of mitigating stormwater runoff and how plants can be incorporated into built structures to help achieve this goal. We have learned about proper planting of trees to ensure their long-term health and which species are best suited to specific sites. We have learned how to incorporate trees into hardscape areas in public spaces that will provide them with adequate soil volumes to support them to maturity. We have learned about the importance of having a diversity of trees species and age classes of trees in our urban spaces. And we have learned about the importance of supporting the health of pollinator populations through the use of native plants that supply what they need to thrive. We believe in science, so we incorporated all of what we have learned into the design and reconstruction of this park and the results are visible here today. The ecological health of this park has been restored, and most importantly, it has been done in such a way that it will be sustainable and will thrive for future generations.”

“What a thrill to see the City’s commitment for a beautiful new park finally come to reality,” said Ernie Pomerleau, Pomerleau Real Estate and Pomerleau Family Foundation. “Having played in this park as a child when it was filled with huge Elm trees, we continue to enjoy it in its new form, and many changes have occurred through a natural process over time. Now, to have been able to help create a truly beautiful and handicap accessible park and fountain for children, in memory of our sister Anne Marie who was a quadriplegic, is truly a wonderful moment for our family and community.”

“I’m excited to walk through the park, climb the stairs, and balance by the water fountain with the children again,” said Myle Truong, a teacher at the nearby King Street Center. “It will be great for them to recognize that space as a part of their community.”

For more information about City Hall Park, please see the Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department website.

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