Hugging the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vt., was one of the country's busiest lumber ports between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, when it became a major oil-distribution hub for the New England interior. Today, the college town—home to the University of Vermont, Burlington College, and several other schools—is a living lab for brownfield redevelopment.

In 1996, the city government hired a full-time brownfield specialist whose mandate is to redevelop the waterfront. Burlington "works closely with owners and developers to encourage the reuse of these sites, through tax incentives, new business development, infrastructure work, or the local planning process," says Gary Lavigne, president of Wiemann Lamphere Architects. The firm, based in the nearby town of Colchester, has worked on nine of Burlington's 26 rehab projects.

The aggressive cleanup effort helps the city enjoy a green reputation, and last November the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named Burlington "America's healthiest city." But the foundering economy is affecting the pace of projects these days. "The recent [crises] have indeed impacted our work," says local architect Alain Youkel. On the other hand, he points out, Vermont's "strong" Act 250, which curbs sprawl, means Burlington and other higher-density areas in the state will benefit from any development that does occur.


2008 population: 38,531; annual job growth is about 3%.

Office Market

Vacancy: 4.5% and growing as new space comes online; CBD asking rates are $16/s.f.–$23/s.f.

Residential Market

November 2008 median home sale price: $234,915.

Market Strengths

  • Proximity to major Northeast U.S. cities and Canada
  • College town
  • Forward-thinking citizenry

Market Concerns

  • Aging population
  • Limited developable land
  • Balancing pedestrian and car space


"Finding funding in an era that continues to gut government projects is a challenge," says Bruce Seifer, the city's assistant director for economic development.