What’s next for CityPlace?
Local business leaders say the pit is not going to be a park
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Downtown Burlington’s massive CityPlace development was thrown into limbo Wednesday after Mayor Weinberger announced that developer Brookfield Properties is backing out. So what’s next? The mayor says Brookfield wants to punt the project back to original developers Don Sinex and Devonwood Properties. Sinex had no comment Thursday, but plenty of other business leaders in the Queen City had plenty to say.
An empty pit in the heart of Burlington will likely remain for now where the $200 million, 10-story CityPlace was supposed to go. Instead of housing, a hotel, and mixed office and retail space, there is only uncertainty and concern.
"I'm not terribly surprised. I think with the advent of COVID and the issues that have evolved regarding retail and it's reliability, it would cause me, if I were a developer, to question the value of big time retail," said Paul Kempner, a Burlington resident.
"I mean it's disappointing for sure. I want to see development, housing, retail. I thought the plan was actually pretty good, but obviously the financing kind of fell through," said Graham Amedore of Winooski.
Reporter Elissa Borden: What would you like to see there, as a resident?
Paul Kempner: Oh, a park. I’d love to see a park there.
But local business experts have a different strategy in mind. "It's not going to be a park. It needs to make money, it needs to bring vitality to the downtown, it needs to bring vitality to the region," said Tom Torti with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. He says whatever happens should be a phased approach. "It's not going to happen in 18 to 24 months. That will not be the full build out. I think they have to go back and understand which pieces of the project can get built first."
Torti said the project's long timeline likely added to the complications. It's a sentiment mirrored by the Burlington Business Association's Kelly Devine. "Time can be your friend or your enemy, and when projects take years and years and years -- and this is on 4 or 5 years -- you just don't know what uncertainties are going to change the environment, and we are dealing with a time of very significant uncertainty," she said.
Devine says she would encourage the city to work with Devonwood on the project to see about moving forward, because having nothing there is harmful to the downtown. “There definitely is a strong demand for housing right now, so I would assume someone with a development interest could at least move forward with the housing portion of the project,” Devine said.
WCAX News also reached out to Mayor Weinberger’s office on Thursday for clarification on their threat of a lawsuit against Brookfield. The office says there are details about their intentions on the city website. Based on the mayor’s letter released Wednesday, it seems the city is only pursuing ownership of the right-of-way connecting St. Paul and Pine streets.
A statement from Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office says: “From the very beginning of this project, when Devonwood Investors bought the failing mall in the heart of our downtown, it was clear that this project could be transformative and also that, like many projects with great potential, it would involve considerable risk. That’s why the City spent many months carefully negotiating a detailed Development Agreement that has protected the City from those development risks. While it is extremely frustrating to see the developers’ mismanagement and dysfunction result in this site continuing to be dormant, the costs of the project delays are borne by the developer, not taxpayers. The Development Agreement also positions the City to achieve public goals of this project, including building new streets and public infrastructure, through legal action if it comes to that.”
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