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Meet Adam Brooks, Executive Director of SEABA

Words and Photo // Lynn Monty

A quirky mix of makers call Burlington’s South End their entrepreneurial home, and that was by design. Decades of mindfulness and planning have taken a stronghold in what now thrives as a designated Arts District.
Fusing art and industry is a daily mission for Adam Brooks, Executive Director of South End Arts and Business Association, or SEABA as it is better known.

This native Vermonter works to pave the way for an eclectic blend of passions to develop in one special area of Vermont’s largest city. Working with SEABA, a small non-profit, has been the best use of his skills, Brooks said. He has a background in education and previously worked with the Greater Burlington YMCA, and the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce. His move to SEABA four years ago was a natural transition, born from a deep desire to work within a small community toward implementing positive outcomes, to brand the South End as a hub for the entrepreneur, and that is precisely what has been happening, he said.

We spoke with Brooks on Aug. 6.

DestinationVT: Burlington’s South End has grown to be a unique area of artisanal products, food, music, and distinctive businesses. What has taken place in Burlington that paved the way for such innovation?

Adam Brooks: SEABA has been around for 29 years. In the past, the South End was not as vibrant as it is today. There were a lot of empty warehouses and buildings. Large businesses were moving out. We worked with the Community and Economic Development Office to expose the public to those buildings, similar to what is going on with the Moran Plant now.

We invited people down and showed them what we have. It was a movement to transform. Some of the buildings and warehouses have turned into art studios, and office buildings like in the Maltex Building. We did a fashion show in the Specialty Filaments building to expose the public to that space, and soon after Dealer.com moved in.

A big portion of what SEABA has done over the last three decades is a really positive reuse of buildings.

DVT: What is your favorite South End spot, and why?

AB: I really enjoy the antique and vintage shops. Those places bring me back. I’m a huge history buff, so looking at something that was used or created years and years ago has a pull to me.

I also love the natural locations. The little park in front of Great Harvest Bread, and Callahan Park. Open green spaces are a nice change of pace.

The South End is one of those places you need to visit and explore. It’s about finding that next interesting thing around the corner, or in one of the buildings. It’s a really great experience for any demographic. It’s a chance to see something unique that you won’t see anywhere else.

DVT: What is your position on the South End’s growth and what would you like to see happen in the area in the next five years? Ten years?

AB: The next five to ten years here are going to be extremely important. There is going to be a lot of change both in development, and traffic. I am interested in preserving a little bit of the old, green space, artistic vibrancy, and really keeping it a hub for entrepreneurs and makers.

I would like to keep folks in Burlington to explore arts and culture. I think developing the South End could be a huge asset to the City of Burlington, if it’s done right.

DVT: What is SEABA’s mission with this development?

AB: Burlington has completed a draft plan for the South End. I was pleasantly surprised that they pulled everything together the way they did. They covered a lot of the different issues that face the South End. We are in a commentary feedback period. Revisions will go before City Council by the end of the year.

We are teaching sessions based on each of the different components in the draft plan. We really want the community to ask questions, and get their questions answered, so they can provide constructive feedback.

There are a lot of points of concern and excitement in the draft plan. Champlain Parkway is one of the top points of concern, primarily because of the construction that it will cause, and the potential for increased traffic on Pine Street. There has to be a plan to slow traffic down or divert traffic. We are looking at a ten percent increase in traffic, and as it is, 4:30 on any given day, traffic is backed up. And adding ten percent to that would really mean some issues for pedestrians and business owners.

The second point of contention is the Enterprise Zone. This zone is strictly for light manufacturing. People there make things, they roast, and brew, work with steel, or wood, or chocolate. The city is looking at changing some of the zoning to allow for other uses like housing and other types of development through Form Based Code. We feel like there needs to be a portion of the city that is reserved for businesses to expand, and move down here. If some of the land is used up for something else like housing, or a Starbucks, or something like that, then it doesn’t really bode well for the community.

The best thing for the South End is to see continued vibrancy in the maker movement. Art has been used here to drive people to underutilized or forgotten areas, and that has been great for business. The Art Hop is a prime example. That event puts art work, and sculpture, and fashion in 150 buildings and drives about 35,000 people into those businesses. It’s really an economic boom. It brings in over $1 million into the local economy annually.

DVT: Is there anything else you would like people to know?

AB: We are here to help the South End thrive economically. It’s a collection of great businesses and property owners that believe in this area. Artists down here make their craft a full-time job, and that is pretty remarkable. When you can produce amazing work, and continue to handle the business, and the marketing aspect of the job, when most of their business comes from out of state, that’s not a simple task. Vermont is not really a great art buying market. The fact that these business owners can make a living out of what they really wanted to do with their lives, I think is just an amazing thing.

For more information visit SEABA at 404 Pine Street in Burlington, or call (802) 859-9222 or visit www.seaba.com.