New details released about CityPlace project

(WCAX)
Published: Nov. 26, 2019 at 12:01 AM EST
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We're learning more about Burlington's CityPlace project. If all goes according to the latest plan, the long-delayed and heavily modified project should take 39 months to complete.

The delay in completing the project means the city will need approval from a state agency that authorized the city's plan for funding its portion of the project

On Monday, the Board of Finance voted unanimously to let the city submit a “substantial change request” to the Vermont Economic Progress Council in connection to the city’s Waterfront TIF District. VEPC is in charge of the state’s tax increment financing program. The city is seeking to amend the development agreement to address the revisions to the size and timeline of the project.

According to new documents, the amended version of CityPlace is smaller than the original, with 10 floors instead of 14. The paperwork reveals it’s also cheaper and is expected to cost $120 million instead of $190 million. It’s estimated the structure will be completed in February 2023.

The project still includes plans to reconnect St. Paul and Pine streets, work the city will pay for through tax increment financing. But the new timeline from the developers means the city would not meet the state-imposed deadline of June 2021 for borrowing up to $21.8 million for those infrastructure improvements. The mayor says the city still plans to borrow the money by that deadline but will ask the developer to back the city’s debt between then and the completion date.

“When the initial development agreement was agreed to by both parties, that deadline did not look problematic because it appeared that this project should be fully complete well in advance of that deadline," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington. “Now that it is certain that they will not be done by then, we are going to need to put some additional language in place in the development agreement to ensure that what I said to you before stays the case. We’re going to need to have an amendment that finds a way to completely protect taxpayers from any development risk, any construction risk even though the construction project will still be ongoing.”

There are also concerns about whether the scaled-down project will generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of all of the infrastructure improvements the city initially planned to make.

“What the updated projection shows are there would be approximately $19 million that could be bonded for and that is probably not comprehensive of all of the revenues that ultimately the TIF district might generate,” he said.

Assistant City Attorney Richard Haesler was at Monday’s Board of Finance meeting to take questions from four of the city councilors on the board. They asked him if the increment is going to be sufficient or if the city could end up having to pay through its general fund. Haesler said no to the possibility of the city having to foot the bill.

“The letter that was included in the packet from Brookfield indicated that they are committed to assuring that the increment or some other contractual method for servicing the debt which would be outside of the general fund would be sufficient to finance the public improvements,” Haesler said.

Weinberger told WCAX News it’s likely changes will be laid out in a future development agreement amendment that is expected to go before the city council sometime in early 2020. The City Council will discuss the substantial change request at next Monday’s meeting and the VEPC will review it on Dec. 19.

The modified CityPlace plan will increase the number of housing units from 289 to 318. Developers are planning to use lighter steel to reduce the weight of the building. The gross square footage has been reduced from 1 million square feet to 733,000 square feet.