December 9, 2022

Burlington official: ‘Surprised if we see any construction this summer’ on CityPlace

The site of the stalled CityPlace development in Burlington on July 23, 2020. File photo…

CityPlace
The site of the stalled CityPlace development in Burlington on July 23, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Months after the developers of Burlington’s CityPlace project said it could break ground by this spring, the development is still stalled. And city officials do not expect that to change in the near future. 

“We don’t believe it’s going to construction in the next month or two. I’d honestly be surprised if we see any construction this summer,” Brian Pine, director of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office, said in an interview last week.

The project has zoning permits, but it has yet to secure a building permit — something it would need to start construction, said Bill Ward, the city’s head of permitting and inspections.

“We don’t have those building permit plans to review yet at this point,” Ward wrote in an email. “That means the building permit is not likely to be issued within the next few weeks generally speaking.”

Envisioned in 2014 as a redesign of Burlington’s downtown mall, the planned housing complex has so far razed a block of the city’s downtown and built nothing in its place, earning it a colloquial title: “the pit.” 

While the city government initially backed the venture, it sued the project’s developers in fall 2020. The parties settled that suit, but Burlington walked away with a guarantee that — even if the project did not get off the ground — the developers would fund the reconnection of two city streets blocked by the old mall.

The former mall — which would be renovated in the project’s second phase, according to the developers — has deteriorated in recent years. Only two tenants remain: Burlington High School, which occupied the former Macy’s department store after its building was deemed unsafe because of toxic chemicals, and L.L. Bean, which is slated to move to a new location in Williston on June 10.

At a public meeting in February, lead developer Don Sinex said the project would go forward in late April or early May if it received a $130 million loan, which was contingent on an appraisal of the site.

“I don’t see anything that could disrupt that schedule at this point,” Sinex said at the Feb. 8 meeting for residents of the city’s Hill Section. “But one never knows, of course. This project has had its ups and downs over the years.”

Sinex declined VTDigger’s request for an interview on Thursday, writing in a statement: “There is no update at this time but we will let you know when there is an update.”

Sinex oversaw CityPlace from its inception to 2019, when the massive real estate investment firm Brookfield Properties took over the project. But Sinex bought it back from the firm a year later, along with three other partners who had Vermont roots. 

Despite the timeline given by Pine, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger sounded more hopeful about the project at an unrelated press conference on Tuesday but said the project’s developers are in “crunch time.” 

“I know there’s a great deal of activity happening behind the scenes right now, and hopefully the project has some positive announcements to make soon,” Weinberger said. 

But any progress in the near future would occur because of the developers’ efforts, the mayor said, arguing that the city has already “done its job.”

“This is a project that has always been on private land, where a privately owned developer needs to perform and needs to deliver,” Weinberger said. 

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