BURLINGTON, Vt. – As the developer behind the delayed CityPlace project in downtown Burlington works on a redesign effort, Mayor Miro Weinberger remains optimistic that the city will eventually have the vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood many are hoping for.
He acknowledged how “frustrating, unpleasant, and disruptive” the vacant lot’s extended presence in the city has been, but said the city isn’t the party feeling the pressure of the delays.
“I think all the pressure and pushing we can do pales in comparison with the pressure they must be feeling of having taken this property out of productive use, spending tens of millions of dollars, and have a project stalled,” Weinberger said.
He said the deal was structured with the possibility of this scenario in mind, and Brookfield has been writing checks to the city to cover “modest” costs resulting from it. Despite concerns about individual businesses near the site seeing a decrease in revenue due to lost foot traffic, Weinberger said all metrics point toward overall downtown business remaining strong through the delay.
“Frankly, no one knew if it would go this well,” Weinberger said. “We can look to our sales tax revenue, we can look toward our gross receipts revenue, both of those are good indicators of the amount of economic activity and commerce taking place.”
Caryn Long, a Burlington resident, pressed Weinberger on his evaluation of the current situation.
“You’re saying this is not a catastrophe to have this boarded up area?” Long said. “Talk to Single Pebble and ask them how they’re doing, they have closed their lunches. Talk to Tina’s Home Design, she’s been in downtown since 1961. Businesses that have been way longer than you and me are having trouble.”
With the start of construction appearing to be a far-off goal, Weinberger said helping those businesses struggling because of a lack of foot traffic should be a priority.
“That needs to be fixed,” Weinberger said. “One of the things Brookfield did say is that they’re working to restore public right-of-way and that needs to happen quickly.”
He added that more detail on that should be expected soon.
Two weeks ago, representatives from Brookfield appeared before city council to offer an update on CityPlace that received a lukewarm reception from many councilors. Aanan Olsen, vice president of development at Brookfield Properties, blamed the lack of progress on outstanding litigation, the complexity of the project and escalating costs. He offered no timeline for when construction might begin.
The $225 million project has suffered constant delays, including the discovery of asbestos in January 2018. Construction came to grinding halt a year ago, leaving a vacant lot downtown.