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February 15, 2012

Media a No-Show at Weinberger's Economic Development Press Conference

Mayors RaceIf a mayoral candidate holds a press conference, and no press shows up, does he make a sound?

He does if he's Democrat Miro Weinberger, who found himself literally audience-less Wednesday at the unveiling of his big economic development plan. Weinberger gathered a half-dozen supporters around him at Burlington's Union Station to explain how, as mayor, he would "get Burlington moving again" and "reduce taxpayer burdens."

MIroBut not a single reporter bothered to show up. To be fair, I wasn't going to show up either. I was busy finishing the question list for tomorrow night's Seven Days/Channel 17 candidates' forum at Contois Auditorium. I had walked to Burlington Bay Cafe for a ginger ale and was headed back to the office when Weinberger campaign spokesman Mike Kanarick flagged me down and roped me in.

Inside Union Station, Weinberger mingled as he waited for stragglers to arrive. No one did, so the show went on with an audience of one: me.

Now granted, Weinberger holds a lot of press conferences and sometimes they cover stuff he's talked about before. But economic development seems pretty important. Maybe today was just a busy news day. Or just maybe, as the mayor's race slogs toward a March 6 finale, campaign coverage fatigue is finally setting in.


So what's Weinberger's big idea for jump starting Burlington's economy? Like all things Weinberger, it comes with a lot of bullet points.

  • Turn the section of industrial waterfront between ECHO Center and the ferry docks into a mixed-use development featuring an extended boardwalk, shops, restaurants and an expanded marina with more boat slips. Doing that will bring more visitors — and their money — to town and increase tax revenues.
  • "Unleash the potential of the west side of Pine Street" by "breaking the regulatory paralysis" that has impacted property owners abutting the Barge Canal Superfund site.
  • Build the Champlain Parkway, the long-stalled expressway that would connect I-189 to downtown.
  • Restore Amtrak train service to Burlington.
  • Increase downtown housing options.
  • Expand Burlington's "business improvement district" beyond the Church Street Marketplace.
  • Implement the $10 million tax increment financing district, or TIF (which a majority of city councilors voted to take off the March ballot) to make infrastructure investments and leverage private investment in downtown building.
  • Expand the "designated downtown" to include the rail yards off Battery Street, Pine Street and North Street, which he said could trigger additional smart growth incentives.
  • (Wait, there's more...)
  • Support construction of a new $10 million downtown transit center, thereby removing the "eyesore" that is the current transit center.
  • Work with existing businesses to help them expand and attract new complementary businesses, particularly tech companies.

Whew. That's a pretty ambitious list. What makes him think he can get all that done — and succeed where others have failed?

In a nutshell, Weinberger says it comes down to relationships. Waterfront property owners such as the Pecors, who run Lake Champlain Transportation Company — and who own the warehouses that Weinberger wants to gentrify, er, redevelop — haven't had a good partner in city hall, Weinberger says. He believes a Weinberger administration could change that to usher in new building.

Ditto with the Superfund morass on Pine Street. Weinberger says the toxic mess left behind from a coal gasification operation has deterred abutting property owners from building on their land lest they find a new plume of toxic waste beneath — and become liable for cleaning it up. Weinberger is confident he could bring regulators and stakeholders to the table to work out a deal to get economic development going while shielding property owners from the liability.

Such a big list suggests that Weinberger is trying to offer something for everyone to like. Of course in doing so, he risks his audience tuning out after the third or fourth bullet point.

Or, as today demonstrated, never hearing about it in the first place.

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