After years of delays and broken promises, the Burlington city council apparently learned of more problems with the $200 million CityPlace redevelopment project Monday night. So far, however, no details have been shared with the public.
Brookfield Properties, an international developer, took over the CityPlace Burlington project earlier this year and promised to finally begin construction in June. Mayor Miro Weinberger declared himself "optimistic" about the 14-story mixed use project.
But, like so many previous reassurances about CityPlace, this one proved inaccurate. The project site, in the heart of Burlington’s downtown, remains silent.
And now it appears the project is undergoing substantial changes.
Weinberger and other officials gave the city council an update during Monday’s council meeting — but that took place behind closed doors. No one from Brookfield attended.
Weinberger refused to share any details. He said he expects Brookfield to make a statement this week.
“[I'm] looking forward to sharing considerable additional thoughts with you once Brookfield has explained what is I think self-evident, that we’re in mid-July and this project is not in construction and they have not succeeded at the goal of getting this project back into construction in the spring," Weinberger said. "We’re now [in] mid-summer."
But reporters waiting outside the meeting room heard an architect tell city officials that changes were coming, including a “extensive” redesign. When asked to characterize the tenor of the announcement, Jeffry Glassberg, a consultant with city, said, “change.”
“And a change from the status quo,” Glassberg said. “There’s no construction underway. Our effort is to get construction going and trying to figure out the shortest path to get there.”
Brookfield did not respond to a request for comment. Don Sinex, a developer and partner in the project, told VPR in an email he had “no idea as to what changes you are referring too.”
Meanwhile, city councilors have refused to provide the public with information after the closed door briefing.
Progressive Councilor Brian Pine and other councilors reached by VPR would not discuss what was said during executive session, but promised to say more once Brookfield spoke up.
“You can kind of, using deductive reasoning, that you know, construction halted a year ago and it hasn’t really kind picked up again,” he said. “They’re relooking at the whole scale and scope project. I think that’s about all I can say.”
Democrat-Progressive Councilor Ali Dieng said he still has faith in Brookfield.
“They will present all the details," he said.
Regarding city residents' concerns about the size of the CityPlace development, Dieng added, "Maybe what they will propose will definitely respond to those concerns from the community."
The city wants to maintain a good relationship with Brookfield according to Democrat Councilor Joan Shannon. But she said she understands that people are anxious to know more.
“The situation is frustrating,” she said. “So, I do think some patience is required in this, and as long as everybody is pulling in the same direction to move forward, I think that that’s really important.”
The council has generally supported the project, even after several delays and challenges in federal court — most recently that Sinex violated a settlement reached in an earlier lawsuit.
In 2017, Seven Days reported Sinex had the financing for the project and planned to break ground in summer — but construction didn’t start and the funding didn’t come through. Over a year later, in August 2018, Sinex asked the city council for permission to pour the foundation before he had financing in place. The council agreed.
Former city councilor Dave Hartnett was one of only two councilors who voted against the plan. He said Sinex kept breaking promises and the council should have seen the red flags.
“I don’t think we’d be in the spot that we’re in today," Harnett said. "It looks like to me we’re going to have a much different project anyways now, right, and we’re going to be at least a year and a half, two years behind where we could have been."
Despite receiving council approval, Sinex never started work on the foundation. In fact, there’s been little to no work on the project, which left a massive hole in Burlington’s commercial district, for more than a year.
Progressive Councilor Max Tracy, who voted with Harnett and has been long been critical of the project, said Brookfield owes the public an explanation.
“They need to come to the table being prepared to offer a full explanation for what it is that is holding this project up and how they’re going to get us out of this,” Tracy said. “'Cause we can’t keep going on like this. This is ridiculous.”
If all had gone according to initial plans in 2016, the redevelopment would be finished by now.
VPR’s Anna Van Dine contributing reporting to this story.