The city of Burlington is threatening to sue the developers of a massive downtown redevelopment for failing to follow through on promises to move the project forward.
Brookfield Properties, one of the largest real estate companies in the world, has repeatedly assured the city and public that it was committed to seeing the CityPlace Burlington project though and told VTDigger in May they still planned to begin construction on the long-stalled project this summer.
But Mayor Miro Weinberger said the city learned last week that Brookfield intends to pull out of the project and return management to Don Sinex, a partner in the venture who had previously been in charge.
Weinberger said the city sent a letter to Brookfield accusing them of breaking their promises and gave them a “short-window of time” to respond.
“If an acceptable proposal is not forthcoming, I will protect the city’s interests and long-standing public goals for this project through aggressive legal action,” Weinberger said.
If the city sues, Weinberger said, at a minimum, it would ask for control of the land needed to rebuild two streets that the developers had promised to reconnect.
Brookfield Properties declined to comment. Sinex, when reached by email, initially said a press release would be out “sometime soon” but then backtracked.
“It will not be any time soon, I am talking a few weeks or more,” Sinex wrote in an email to VPR.
The redevelopement of the mall has been plagued by delays since demolition began in 2017, leaving a hole in the heart of Burlington's downtown for more than two years. During that time, Brookfield moved from being a silent partner to leading the project, and last summer annouced the redevelopment would be scaled-back.
In November, Brookfield said the project wouldn't be completely finished until 2023.
The threat of litigation represents a turning point for Weinberger, who championed the project in its early days and has generally remained optimistic that Brookfield would complete the redevelopment, despite the repeated delays.
Weinberger said he’s still open to Brookfield coming back to the table.
“There’s multiple different things they could do to make it clear they’re not abandoning the people of Burlington, that they were not abandoning these past commitments,” Weinberger said. “I’m not going to spell it out for them, they know what they need to do.”
But City Council President Max Tracy, who has been critical of the project for years, said he doesn’t have confidence in Brookfield.
“They’ve said a variety of things that have turned out to be patently false or misleading,” Tracy said. “So I don’t see a situation or a path with me to regain my trust.”
Tracy, who’s long called for the city to adopt a tougher stance towards to developers, said he hopes the city pursues the litigation.
“It feels really wrong, the way … that this whole thing has gone down and the way [Brookfield] behaved in this situation,” he said. “So I feel like we need to hold them accountable, and there’s been a hesitancy to do so for far too long.”
Weinberger said Brookfield has reached out since the city sent its letter on Saturday but he doesn’t expect there to be any updates on the situation until August.
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