You may or may not know the name Stu McGowan, but if you’ve tootled around Burlington at all, you’ve definitely seen at least one of his houses. McGowan, 47, is an unusual developer who deals in low-income housing in a most colorful way. Literally. Each of his buildings — primarily old housing stock turned into condos — features a cheerfully unorthodox paint job, such as bright pink, orange or lime green with contrasting trim. And next month, McGowan will grant one hue-happy individual an unorthodox opportunity: to select the colors for his next house.
That’s one of his auction donations to benefit CarShare Vermont — McGowan is on the board of the Burlington nonprofit — so if you want a chance at it, you’ll have to attend CarShare’s first-anniversary party on February 12. The idea behind the “Share the Love” auction — aside from raising money for the organization, which provides an alternative to private vehicle ownership — is “to get something really unique for your sweetie before Valentine’s Day,” McGowan explains.
And this man knows from unique Valentines: For 25 consecutive years, McGowan has created a deeply idiosyncratic, large and usually quite public testament to his wife, Joan Watson, for V-Day. Last year the project involved making a giant heart composed of hundreds of keys — “Every time we get a place we change the locks,” McGowan notes — and covered with red construction paper. It sat in front of their Archibald Street house for a week; “then I cut out the actual heart part, and it’s hanging in our house,” he says.
That inspired McGowan’s second auction gift, a smaller version of the key construction. His third donation is a “bowl or planter” made by Watson, a potter and longtime director of the University of Vermont’s Living/Learning Center Pottery Co-op.
McGowan admits he has “no freaking clue” what he’ll do to proclaim his love for Watson this year, but it’s a safe bet he won’t just buy flowers. Meanwhile, he’s got a key-heart thingy to make for someone else, and a few more buildings to buy. Oh, and the starting bid is $75 for the chance to “leave your mark in Burlington with an eclectic house painted in your honor.” Now, that’s romantic.