Burlington developers unveil big plans for South End brownfield

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:22 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Development plans are in the works to remediate a key brownfield site in Burlington’s South End.

Developers have been eyeing the property near the former barge canal since the coal gasification plant closed back in 1966. Since then, the area has enjoyed a renaissance and is home to shops, Dealer.com, and the renovated Maltex building.

“This was a natural. We just want to finish cleaning up, put these back into use and whatever the municipality wants them to be, but cleaning the site up first is our highest priority,” said Gov. Phil Scott during Wednesday’s announcement.

Remediation is necessary because of fears that disturbing the land would push harmful coal tar and other material into nearby Lake Champlain. The state secured a $6 million brownfield investment to survey and make a plan for building over the land.

“The remediation strategy is going to end up looking like pilings that the buildings will actually be built on, constructed in a way to minimize subsurface disturbance. It’s sort of a unique approach but one that is best suited to conditions on the site,” said Vt. Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.

Two businesses are interested in the property -- a bowling alley called Backside Bowl, and Silt Botanica, which wants to build a Nordic bathhouse. Silt Botanica owner Jovial King says the bathhouse is about gathering and community, while also bringing another wellness option to the area. “It’s really a place to go to relax, to unwind. Lots of saunas, steam rooms, relaxation areas, cold plunges, and warm pools. So, it’s really about going with friends or going by yourself and just unwinding,” King said.

The developers are taking advantage of tax benefits that come with building in brownfields and so-called “opportunity zones.” This, along with its proximity to a Superfund site, excludes housing from being built on the site.

“The downtown and the South End is a priority area for economic growth and so this is exactly where Burlington needs to focus our efforts to ensure we can grow our economy and support local businesses and grow the tax base and provide greater services and options for residents of the city,” said Brian Pine, director of Burlington’s Community & Economic Development Office.

The group Friends of the Barge Canal says there should be more focus on conserving the canal area than development but that they are content with the future plans at the site. “We would ultimately prefer that there be no buildings on this land but we are very glad that somebody is building here who cares for the land and has a conservation vision that we share,” said the group’s Andy Simon.

Work is set to start next spring with a completion date of early 2024.

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