Mayor&Rsquo;S Office

Mayor's December Update: Downtown health, Stormwater, and Highlight

December 2019

December is one of the most magical times of the year in Burlington. The lights on the Church Street Marketplace are twinkling, the snow starts to stick, and good cheer spreads throughout the City. I wish everyone a joyful holiday season however you celebrate. This month, I’m thinking about the health of our downtown, heartening progress on our stormwater challenges, and a community celebration for New Year’s Eve with the second year of Highlight.

Downtown Health and New Director of the Church Street Marketplace

This holiday shopping season, I’m excited to have appointed a new Executive Director the Church Street Marketplace. Kara Alnasrawi is now the fourth director in the Marketplace’s nearly 40-year history, and comes to the position having owned a successful retail business in our downtown for seven years, with deep financial management experience, and with a passion for downtown vitality and economic development. Kara was born and raised in the Burlington area and attended the University of Vermont, and I am looking forward to working with her to make the Marketplace an even more vibrant place.

At the same time, the health of our downtown is strong. The Church Street Marketplace is fully leased up, and the City’s data from tax receipts on categories like meals and retail sales show that economic activity in the downtown is as strong as ever. Meanwhile, parking is available in the City’s three public garages, and parking spaces are always open in the lesser-known Lakeview and College Street garages. This holiday season, with a contribution from the developer of CityPlace Burlington, we are offering free parking on weekends in those two garages, and four hours of free parking during the week. Head to to learn more.

Progress on Stormwater

Some good news about our stormwater work: While we have much more to do, we're seeing evidence that we are making an impact.

First, some background. Over the last decade, the City has been working to protect Lake Champlain by better managing stormwater, or in other words, the rain and melt that run off of paved surfaces during storm events. Burlington has an inherited sewer system where many of our wastewater and stormwater pipes are combined, and by reducing the flows of stormwater reaching that system in the first place, we can reduce overflows of the system into our Lake – even during the increasingly intense storms that we have been experiencing as the climate changes.

As we’ve been working to manage this stormwater, we’ve prioritized the use of green stormwater infrastructure like bioretention systems (such as rain gardens) and infiltration practices, versus traditional grey infrastructure like pipes and tanks. We’ve been doing this because green stormwater infrastructure treats stormwater at the source by infiltrating it into the soil or simply slowing it down, so that it reconnects to the natural hydrologic cycle and ideally never reaches our sewer system. Plus, this type of infrastructure is often more cost effective, since it delivers other environmental, social, and economic benefits at the same time.

Here’s the best part of all of this: We’re seeing signs that the green stormwater infrastructure is working. One example: Since 2009, we have installed 14 green stormwater infrastructure systems in the sandy soils of the Old North End, in order to manage the stormwater runoff that was causing combined sewer overflows (CSOs) near Manhattan Drive. Today, these systems capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from approximately 10 acres of impervious surface, allowing the water to soak into the soils instead of reaching the sewer system where it could cause a CSO.

How significant is all of this? Well, during the big Halloween storm – which dropped 3.5 inches of rain down on Burlington in a matter of hours – the long-problematic combined sewer overflow point closest to these projects, near Manhattan Drive, did not activate. We still have more work to do, but this is good news that the work we are doing is making an impact.

Highlight on New Year’s Eve

Last year, our City arts department, Burlington City Arts, did something amazing: On very short notice, they stepped in to plan and execute an incredible celebration for New Year’s Eve, building off of the 35-year run of First Night Burlington. The inaugural “Highlight,” as we called it, was a success: More than 6,000 people came out to experience over 35 events across 20 different venues. What’s more, our community started to forge a new tradition for how we celebrate New Year’s Eve together.

This year, we are doing it again. For the second Highlight, we have over 40 events and performances, more venues, and activities that range from experimental theater to storytelling to a roaring 1920s ball. Once again this year, we turned to the community for ideas, and asked for proposals through the “Bright Ideas” program. By crowdsourcing these ideas, we are creating community programming for New Year’s Eve and filling Highlight with many unique, one-time-only, and distinctly Burlington and Vermont events.

Check out the full schedule of events, and get your ticket (actually a button), at Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for kids, with additional options available if that budget is a barrier. Plus, that one button grants access to all 40-plus events. I am very pleased that the City is able to continue to support this family-friendly, accessible, and distinctive celebration of Burlington, and showcase our City’s spirit. I hope to see many of you on New Year’s Eve.

As always, I encourage you to join me at the Bagel Café on North Avenue on Wednesday mornings from 8:00-9:00 am to share your thoughts and questions about these or any other topics that are on your mind. You can also visit my Facebook page at for more information on the work of the Mayor’s Office and our City Departments. I look forward to seeing you soon.