In the late 1970s, a bit of a crisis overcame the City of Winooski: not enough housing.
Meanwhile, in the grasp of an energy crisis, the Department of Energy and Department of Housing and Urban Development combined efforts and started the process of awarding millions of dollars in funding to towns and cities who had unique proposals to for programs aimed at reducing energy costs.
One of the most unique proposals came from the Onion City.
It was proposed as a nearly 900 acre dome, meant to cover the City of Winooski protecting it from the cold winters.
Clem Bissonette, a lifetime resident of the Onion City and one time mayor and city councilor, was approached by Mark Tigan, the Director of Community Development…with a bizarre idea.
“I have an idea, can you stop down?” recalled Bissonette.
“The first thing I said to him was ‘What have you been drinking today?’ You want to build a dome? Over the whole city?'” said Bissonette.
Outrageous in theory and scope, but it got a lot of people talking.
Whether it could actually be done or not could be debated for years, but the proposal was an avenue to much needed federal funding to build housing where it was in short supply.
“We had a lot of federal money coming in and Mark had a lot of contacts in the HUD office. someone said to him we’ll give you two or three million dollars if you study the concept of a dome. It was money to build housing,” said Bissonette.
Federal money was about to pour into Winooski, following a decade of urban renewal in the 1970’s.
Blight would be replaced by newer housing.
But the idea for a dome was doomed; all the federal funding opportunities went away when President Reagan took office.
“Federal funds ran out. Carter left office and Reagan came in and one of the first things that seemed to get gut was HUD money,” said Bissonette.
Fast forward to the 1980s, and still no dome, housing or substantial new development in the Onion City.
Instead, what money was there was went towards historic preservation.
Between the mid-2000’s and today some $150 to 175 million dollars in new construction has occurred. Now, city leaders and historians agree, the need to grow still exists.
“We’re limited in our tax base. We have just the one industrial park on upper Weaver. We need to find ways of raising the tax revenue,” said Bissonette.
In July, the city passed form based zoning which encourages urban, mixed-use development.
As a result a handful of new urban housing and retail development is sprouting up in the Onion City.
Nearly 40 years after one of the most eager and unusual proposals was pitched, Winooski has grown beyond the dome.