WCAX archives: Planning and development of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace

Published: Sep. 18, 2021 at 9:38 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - This weekend, Burlington is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Church Street Marketplace grand opening. We dug through the WCAX archives to take you on a walk through its history.

Burlington architect Bill Truex is credited with the idea for the marketplace, having been inspired by a pedestrian mall he saw while traveling in Denmark in the 1960s. In 1979, Truex presented four plans for revitalizing Church Street to city officials.

As Channel 3′s Nick Bogart reported, closing church street to cars was not an easy sell.

(April 6, 1979) “And the last choice would mean closing off Church Street between Bank and Cherry for a pedestrian plaza,” reports Bogart.

Marketplace committee Chairman Patrick Robbins says keeping traffic on the street is favored by merchants, the mayor, and the so-called roundtable of experts that came to look at Burlington last month. But city traffic planner, Donald Morley had some problems with the idea.

“I’m not so sure the motor vehicle is a good design element in our city,” said Morley.

Eventually the pedestrian idea prevailed and Mayor Gordon Paquette celebrated when voters approved a bond to pay for construction of the marketplace.

(October 31, 1979) “I think we had a lot of really good arguments for the marketplace and I think that’s why it won today,” said Mayor Paquette.

As Channel 3′s Bill Felling reported, fears of lost business to suburban shopping centers, like the University Mall, helped convince voters.

“While this is not the end of the city’s problems nor the answer to the mall, it does give the merchants a sense of security that the downtown can compete against any suburban mall,” reports Felling.

Construction began in the spring of 1980 with the center two blocks officially closed to traffic in July that year. Over the next 16 months, the city’s commercial center was dug up, and bricked over. And on September 15th, 1981 the marketplace opened with a grand celebration. The top block of the street closed to traffic in 1994. And the block between Main and College became pedestrian-only in 2005.

Today, with throngs of pedestrians, vendors and restaurant seating filling the marketplace, it’s hard to imagine the Church Street of old.

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