BURLINGTON, Vt. – The developers of CityPlace in downtown Burlington were at City Council on Monday, where their update on the troubled project left councilmembers frustrated and wary of its future.
City Council President Kurt Wright even suggested a news headline to sum up the discussion: “‘Brookfield comes to the council to tell the council that they have nothing to tell the council,'” Wright said.
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 gaping hole downtown.
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 start up gain.
Olsen did say there’s been a “tremendous amount of work behind the scene.” Brookfield continues to work with Burlington officials to ensure the design is “consistent with the community’s values and goals,” he said, and is committed to improving conditions at the site.
“We’re working diligently on parking and to restore pedestrian access,” Olsen said. “In order to approve the aesthetic appearance, there will also be an art installation on the barriers.”
Olsen’s brief update was criticized by city councilors, who said it showed the lack of communication between Brookfield Properties and the city.
Progressive City Councilor Max Tracy, who has been a vocal critic of Brookfield, suggested that the city take immediate action to salvage CityPlace.
“They have taken advantage of our good faith and the city’s willingness to play ball,” Tracy said. “We cannot continue to sit here and have these non-update updates take place… We would pursue a course of increasing penalties and accountability for the developer.”
Brian Pine, a Progressive city councilor, said the “spirit of partnership” has been absent.
“It’s hard for us to continue to speak to the public about a project that we have not felt the private sector partner has been an actual partner in a meaningful way,” he said.
It was Olsen’s first appearance before council. He said former Brookfield representative Will Voegele, who had been providing the updates on the project, had left the company.
The change in Brookfield’s public face raised questions for some councilmembers.
“It doesn’t make me feel very secure that the faces representing Brookfield keep changing,” said Sharon Bushor, an Independent city councilor. “It makes me feel like this is a project that nobody wants, and you keep passing it on to the new, unfortunate people that have moved up in the organization.”
Olsen responded by reiterated Brookfield’s commitment to the project and promised to communicate more clearly.
In July, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said abandoning Brookfield and pursuing other options for the controversial project would mean even longer delays.
Over the weekend, on Local 22 & Local 44’s “What Matters This Week,” Weinberger expressed frustration with the delays, but said he was optimistic about the road ahead.
“The communication has been better,” he said, “and they also have been demonstrating a lot of ways they’re continuing to put substantial resources into planning and design efforts here.”