BURLINGTON — The game is changing in Burlington, and the morphing outline of the city was optimistically broken down by Mayor Jeannie Hefty during her State of the City address Tuesday.
“This year will be different,” Hefty said at the beginning of her remarks. “I have been approached by non-residents of Burlington mentioning that Burlington is becoming a destination point once again.”
In 2017-18, much of the mayor’s focus was on establishing brand-new local businesses. Although they are still on her radar, Hefty’s is turning her eyes to attracting more big-name chains in 2019.
There’s a Starbucks coming to 1054 Milwaukee Ave., and other chains such as Planet Fitness, The Jewelry Center, Carpetland and Big R have opened. Hefty hinted “two other franchises” are eyeing the city.
No formal announcements have been made regarding the identity of the two new franchises.
“With activity like this, many other franchises will now look at Burlington more seriously,” Hefty said.
“I have my ideas what they may be,” 1st District Alderman Susan Kott said after the meeting, but didn’t share her guesses. “There’s a lot of good things that are coming … it shows that other people are loving our city, like we already have for so long.”
Hefty applauded The Coffee House for recommitting to Burlington with its planned addition of an outdoor balcony. She also highlighted Itzin’s Shoes & Repair on Tuesday for continuous commitment to the city with a planned expansion of its own.
“Some of the stores are opening later in the day on Fridays,” Hefty said, “and staying open later on a Friday night. Looking Downtown, you will see that many stores are seasonally decorating the outside of their storefronts. So many are giving it all to show that downtown is alive.”
Kott said that the energy of private business owners couldn’t be overlooked. She credited Mercantile Hall, which opened two years ago, for drawing wedding parties Downtown seemingly every weekend, another boon for the city’s image and economy.
Third District Alderman Jon Schultz, who was re-elected as City Council president Tuesday, said he loves the pace of development in Burlington.
“I’m happy with the growth,” Schultz said, adding that he was glad Burlington doesn’t have to deal with Foxconn quite as much as the county’s east end. “We have more control.”
One of Schultz’s goals, going forward, is “to do more to revitalize the core of the city.”
Part of that is wrapped up in two properties — Hefty called them “eyesores” — that may be injected with new life soon. Miller Motors is planning to take over a long-vacant 13,000-square-foot building on Milwaukee Avenue, and the former Coach’s tavern on “The Loop” has caught the eye of business owner Bevin Dawson.
It’s not only business, however.
Hefty said she was glad to see a spike in residential opportunities to go along with business development. There’s Stonegate neighborhood, which is planning 30 lots of new housing; Oak Park Assisted Living and Memory Care is adding to its current developments; and more senior living is planned along Highway 83. There’s also talk of opening another Tax Increment Financing district for the south end of the city after two other TIFs closed last year.
There are hurdles, and possibly some headaches, ahead.
The City of Burlington Fire Department and Burlington Rescue Squad — where Hefty had volunteered for more than four decades — are planning on a merger, something that the mayor hopes will bring the Town of Burlington and the city closer together. She added that Town Chairman Ralph Rice would like to see that friendship deepen as well.
Hefty said that the all-volunteer Rescue Squad is currently taking more than 1,500 calls per year, and that number is only expected to grow, which is a significant motivation for the merger.
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“We want to have volunteerism as a key component to keep our dedicated members,” Hefty said. “There are so many moving parts to all involved. We are taking this slowly to assure we are covering all of this to the best of our ability.”
Hefty added that oversights, such as how signs on Highway 36 inaccurately define the city limits, are being addressed as well.