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From Proposal To Present: A Timeline Of Burlington's CityPlace Project

Cement barries and signs covering a fence with the word "shop."
Liam Elder-Connors
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VPR
This Nov. 2018 photo shows the CityPlace project's signs blocking the empty lot where the project is supposed to go.

The Burlington CityPlace project — a proposed redevelopment of the downtown mall — has had a tumultuous history. We've laid out a timeline of notable milestones in the still-uncompleted project's lifespan.

Note: We plan to keep updating this timeline going forward; it was last updated on Aug. 14, 2020.

January 2016

Burlington Town Center property owner Don Sinex talks to Vermont Edition about his plans for development of the site, which would include housing, office and retail spaces.

"We're going to try to bring onto this site critical mass and activity that'll last every day of the week, almost on a 24/7 basis. ... The mix of tenants is critically important and how they fit into this sort of community of activities that we're going to have here is critically important."

May 2016

The Burlington City Council holds a public forum where community members turn out to voice both support and opposition to the downtown redevelopment. The plan calls for a 14-story building, up to 274 apartment units and a 925-space parking garage.

The council approves a predevelopment agreement between the city and the Burlington Town Center developers.

A rendering of a redeveloped mall space.
Credit Devonwood Investors, Courtesy
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A rendering of the proposed mall redevelopment, from 2016.

September 2016

A market feasability assessment lays out the proposed plan for the Burlington Town Center. It suggests October 2019 as the timeline for a number of deliverables.

October 2016

A PAC associated with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger pushes for ballot items essential to the redevelopment project. More from VTDigger.

Early November 2016

On Election Day, two ballot items are approved by Burlington voters that propel development forward: one related to zoning and height allowances, and one about allowing tax-increment financing for infrastructure work. Weinberger said at the time:

"I'm very aware that this was by no means a unanimous decision. I hope that people who were looking for a different outcome tonight can see in this result [that] their work, their attention, their scrutiny of this project has made the project far better, has made this zoning policy that we just passed better and there is opportunity to make more progress tomorrow."

Signs in Burlington on Town Meeting Day 2016.
Credit Liam Connors / VPR File
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VPR File
On Town Meeting Day 2016, Burlington ballot items 3 and 4 had to do with the proposed mall redevelopment; both were passed by voters.

Late November 2016

A group known as Coalition for a Livable City files a lawsuit saying the TIF vote results from Election Day shouldn't count because of how the ballot item was worded. More from Seven Days.

April 2017

Weinberger talks to VPR's Morning Edition about pursuing development in the city and accompanying pushback against it:

"We try to listen very carefully to those voices of concern. If they look at where the redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center started more than two years ago versus the design that was just approved by the development review board, anyone who kind of looks at that and thinks about the change that has gone through in that period of time — streets being added, better interaction between the buildings and the streets outside, step backs on the upper stories, very substantial amounts of affordable housing — that came as a result of public input."

The mayor also specifically weighs in on concerns about the height of proposed buildings and the city potentially losing its character:

"I don't think this policy change is happening too quickly. This is something that we've had a planning commission and city council joint committee working on for more than two years and we got it through a lot of public process already and there will be more process in the months ahead. I think it's time to get it done. However, I did ask the council to get that work done over the next 120 days."

A man in a light blue shirt and dark blue suit jacket.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
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VPR File
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

April 2017

Sinex tells Seven Days that financing is nearly secure and that construction can start in the summer. More from Seven Days.

May 2017

Two court decisions are made about the Burlington mall project:

  1. Vermont Superior Court dismisses challenges to the outcome of the November 2016 vote.
  2. Vermont's environmental court refuses to order a halt to the redevelopment efforts until a remaining challenge to the project is decided.

July 2017

Sinex and a group of city residents represented by attorney John Franco come to an agreement that says, in part, that future buildings won't be more than 10 stories. More from Seven Days.

October 2017

The city of Burlington signs a development agreement with Sinex.

November 2017

Demolition begins in Burlington. More from WCAX.

January 2018

Asbestos is discovered on the site which halts demolition and pushes the mall timeline back. More from Burlington Free Press.

Early/Mid March 2018

Weinberger is elected to his third term as mayor of Burlington.

Also, the city approves adding more apartment space (and decreasing retail space) in the downtown redevelopment plan. More from Seven Days.  

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger holding a Miro for mayor sign outside.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR File
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VPR File
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger won re-election for a third-term in March 2018, gathering about 48 percent of votes.

Late March 2018

John Franco files a lawsuit in U.S. District Court saying that with the new city-approved plan, Sinex violated the July 2017 agreement with the city residents he represented. More from Seven Days.

April 2018

Demolition starts back up, and Sinex says he expects it done by June. More from Burlington Free Press.

Summer 2018

A VTDigger public records request turns up emails between Sinex and top city development official Neale Lunderville about the foundation, as well as accounts of drama between Sinex and local-company PC Construction, the general contractor overseeing construction.

In August, Sinex tells the city he is going to fire local PC Construction, but by October, Sinex tells VTDigger actually they were probably going to stay on. More from VTDigger.

Late August 2018

Seven Days reports that the Burlington City Council voted to let Sinex move ahead with pouring foundation at the site, despite not having the necessary financing (construction had been stalled because of this financing situation). More from Seven Days.

A demolished mall building.
Credit Henry Epp / VPR File
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VPR File
A snapshot of the Burlington demolition, as seen in June 2018.

September 2018

Burlington hires a consultant named Jeff Glassberg to oversee the CityPlace project. More from VTDigger.

October 2018

Weinberger issues a public statement with a plea to the CityPlace developers.

"The City has made good on all its commitments to the project. It is time for the developers to act and begin site construction, and to communicate their progress to the public regularly."

More from the Burlington Free Press.

Meanwhile, an Arkansas man receives probation for playing a role in defrauding Sinex of $29,348. More from Seven Days.

[Update: 7/18/19 8:35 a.m. — The above line has been clarified with the inclusion of "playing a role in"]

Early November 2018

Seven Days reports that, amid the lack of progress, Lunderville said there were two other developers who expressed interest in purchasing the property. More from Seven Days.

Late November 2018

Steel beams are delivered to the project site, however no foundation has been poured — despite being given the approval to do so back in August. More from the Burlington Free Press.

Early December 2018

VPR takes a look at what's been going on with the CityPlace development, noting that while the mayor had been supportive of the project early on, he's recently more critical of the delays. Weinberger tells VPR about the steps the city has taken:

"We have communicated to them that it is a problem that they're not in construction. We have pushed them hard to hold up that commitment, and we are looking for them to communicate to the public what their intentions are."

The mayor expresses cautious optimism that the project will get back on track. "If they don't show enough progress soon, that would be something we'd have to start reconsidering," he says.

A fence in front of an empty lot.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
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VPR
The CitySpace site in November 2018.

Late December 2018

Before the year ends, a judge dismisses the second Franco lawsuit on behalf of city residents, who claimed Sinex violated a July 2017 agreement. More from VTDigger.

February 2019

Brookfield Asset Management, a previously silent partner in the CityPlace plan, takes control of the redevelopment project. Weinberger responds to this news by telling VPR: "I would drop the 'cautiously,' now. I am optimistic."

March 2019

According to a memo from the city, Brookfield says construction on CityPlace will start in June.

April 2019

Brookfield Asset Management gives an update to Burlington City Council. The group says they're committed to the $235 million project, however there is no timeline.

An empty constrution lot.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR File
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VPR File
The CityPlace site in May 2019.

June 2019

Although a federal suit was dismissed last year, a judge rules that a state lawsuit regarding an alleged breach of the July 2017 agreement can proceed.More from VTDigger.

July 2019

At the Burlington City Council meeting on July 15, Weinberger and others  — though nobody from Brookfield — provided an update behind closed doors. While reporters waiting outside overheard an architect say there would be "extensive" redesign, the mayor and city councilors aren't commenting until Brookfield issues a public statement on the situation.

A few days later, Brookfield Properties issued an email statement that didn't provide any specific information on forthcoming changes to the project, however did note construction is not planned to restart anytime soon.

Weinberger issued his own statement that same day, in which he said Brookfield is considering changes to address "the size and scale criticisms of the project." The mayor also expressed optimism for the project's future.

August 2019

Representatives from Brookfield Properties appeared on Aug. 26 before the Burlington City Council — the first public update about the project since last month's news that the development would be scaled back.

Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen, however, did not provide any specific timeline or details about changes to the project in his update at the meeting. When specifically pressed on a timeline by City Council President Kurt Wright, Olsen said: "I think you can anticipate seeing some action in the near term, in the next year."

Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen at a table, speaking.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
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VPR
Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen updated Burlington City Council about the CityPlace Burlington project at a meeting on Aug. 26, 2019.

September 2019

In a letter to Brookfield Properties, dated Sept. 27, Weinberger laid out steps for the company to take — including paying the city $50,000 by Oct. 7 and presenting a development plan by the end of October.

October 2019

The City of Burlington released a memo the first week of October that noted Brookfield agreed to the demands in the mayor's September letter. In addition to meeting the Oct. 7 deadline, Brookfield Properties will give a presentation to City Council on Oct. 28, according to the memo.

Then, in a letter dated Oct. 7 and addressed to the mayor, Brookfield agreed to pay the city $192,000 for a holiday parking promotion, marketing downtown and covering other costs related to the delayed redevelopment. Brookfield's letter also noted the company plans to reopen public bathrooms in the mall and implement a temporary parking plan for the area affected the by construction site.

At the Oct. 28 Burlington City Council meeting, representatives from Brookfield Properties presented a new round of preliminary designs for the CityPlace project. The major changes include reducing the maximum height of the project from 14 stories to 10 stories and adding a 175-room hotel. A firm start date, however, has not yet been set.

A rendering of the preliminary plans for the Burlington mall redevelopment
Credit City of Burlington
/
City of Burlington
The proposed redesign of CityPlace.

November 2019

A major redevelopment project in Vermont's largest city won't be completely finished until 2023, according to new timeline from the developers.

A series of colorful paintings cover a fence along a slushy road.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
/
VPR
This Nov. 12, 2019 photo shows the fence and colorful coverings along Cherry Street currently blocking off the hole where the CityPlace development is expected to go.

The new memo from Brookfield Properties, the developers of the mall, shows construction tentatively starting in August 2020. The company estimated the new project would cost $120 million — far less than the original proposal, which was more than $200 million

The mixed-use development will be completed in phases with the garage, basement level and some residential floors set to be finished in February 2023 according to the memo.

July 2020

The city of Burlington threatened to sue after learning that Brookfield Properties intended to pull out of the project and return management to Don Sinex, a partner in the venture who had previously been in charge.

Burlington Mayor Miro 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. At a minimum, the city 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.

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