Redesign leaves CityPlace in limbo; developer remains 'committed'

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Don't expect any activity in that big hole in downtown Burlington anytime soon. The developers confirmed Friday the long-stalled CityPlace project faces another delay as they go back to the drawing board.

Almost nothing has happened at the CityPlace site since the old mall was torn down a year ago. The original plan called for a $225-million development including two 14-story towers. The project was to be a mix of housing, office and retail space. Now, it's unclear what elements of that original plan will go forward, and when.

"I think 10 years you can come back and it will still be sitting there," said William McGrath of Burlington

"This is your biggest weekends for tourists, and they are staying at hotels and they come out and see this -- it's depressing," said Ed Sabill and Dan Sullivan, who were visiting from Boston.

On Friday the billion-dollar New York developer, Brookfield Properties, issued a statement saying they are " ... unable to start construction due to various reasons including the complexities of the project and associated cost considerations."

"We are glad that they are saying they are fully committed to this project, but at the same time it's another significant delay," said Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright.

"What we really got was just a general intent from them to redesign the project," said City Councilor Max Tracy, Ward 2, who was among council members saying they are frustrated by the constant delays.

But the company says it remains committed to the project and over the next several months will be working with the city clarifying their plans. " ... to refine our development plan to ensure we have a design that is consistent with the community's values and goals," said Brookfield's statement.

Tracy says he welcomes the redesign and that it's something he has been pushing for since the start. "I want to make sure that they are taking into account the community's input in any redesign -- they know what's best for our city, not some out-of-state developer.

Wright says the council has done everything possible to move forward with the project and he wants Brookfield to communicate and show progress. "We need that development. We need the jobs, we need the housing and we need the retail," he said.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says he shares the public's frustration with the additional delay, but remains committed to working with Brookfield. "We have considered other options, but believe they all would very likely have the effect of keeping this important downtown site inactive for much longer," he said in a statement. "The city does not own the site or have the right to direct who develops it."

As of Friday there was no construction at the site, leaving many like William McGrath questioning what's next. "Hopefully they will come back with something that will be a lot more in scale," he said.

"It's an eyesore. It makes me think, let's develop this place," Ed Sabill said.

Brookfield gave no indication what the new design would look like, but Weinberger says he is hopeful it will address some of the size and scale objections from opponents. One thing the mayor and the city councilors agree on -- Brookfield needs to do a better job of keeping the community informed about the progress on the project.