Update on CityPlace Burlington from Mayor Miro Weinberger

July 19, 2019
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
                (802) 734-0617

Update on CityPlace Burlington from Mayor Miro Weinberger


Burlington, VTToday, Mayor Miro Weinberger released the following update in response to Brookfield Properties’ announcement that its CityPlace Burlington project is faced with additional delays:

Like many in our community, I am frustrated and disappointed that the developers have not commenced construction of CityPlace Burlington. At the same time, Brookfield’s statement today and recent actions demonstrate that there remains a potentially very good path forward with them to transform this long-troubled site into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood. Despite my frustration with the news of additional delays, I think there is much good reasoning, at least for now, to continue our collaboration with Brookfield. This update shares that reasoning, and the final section lays out our current plan for moving forward.

Reasons for Continued Collaboration

First, I welcome the significant news that Brookfield Properties has recently taken over all of the responsibilities of project developer from Don Sinex and is now firmly in control of the project. Brookfield is an experienced and very well-capitalized company, and the Administration has found the Brookfield team to be well-resourced, predictable, and responsive since they took the project lead in January. Further, Brookfield’s recent efforts to reach out to every City Councilor, attend NPA meetings, and connect with community leaders have been well-received.

Second, Brookfield continues to put action and resources behind its statement, which it reiterated today, that the company is committed to delivering a transformative project to Burlington. The City is now in daily contact with Brookfield, and we are aware that the company is continuing to make considerable investment in design and other necessary pre-construction activities.

Third, last week Brookfield made it clear to us that the options it is considering for overcoming the project’s financial challenges also would address some of the size and scale criticisms of the project, and the concerns of many transportation and climate advocates that the project’s currently planned parking garage is far larger than it should be. I am hopeful that Brookfield’s current review and design changes ultimately will lead to a better project for Burlington.

Fourth, Brookfield supports the City’s goal of reconnecting Pine and St. Paul Streets and will include these links in any revised design. Our reconnected streets represent one of the tremendous public goods of this project, and will restore connectivity and life to this part of our downtown.

Thus, despite the additional delays announced today, the City will, at least for now, continue working collaboratively with Brookfield to achieve the important outcomes for the City and its residents that we have sought from the start of this project. 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. To understand the City’s positions and postures towards CityPlace it is important to remember that, but for the new public infrastructure that will be built, this project is a private development on private land that requires investment of hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital. The City does not own the site or have the right to direct who develops it. The City cannot succeed at our goal of transforming this part of our downtown into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood without a strong partner.

City Finances and the Downtown Remain Healthy and Strong

Again, I share the public’s frustration with the additional delay at CityPlace and remain concerned about the impact of the delay upon businesses, residents, and shoppers. Fortunately, even while this project is in transition, the City is strong. In the approximately two years since most of the mall was closed, the City’s finances and the downtown have remained very healthy, and we have no reason to believe that this position will change with further delay.

The City’s financial standing is stronger than at any time since at least 2009, and the project delays have no material impact on the City’s general budget and operations. This is a result of our hard, intentional work to protect the City from development risks through our Development Agreement.

By contrast, the developer is liable for tens of millions of dollars of project costs to date. While we are concerned about community stakeholders very near the site and will be working with Brookfield to mitigate the impacts of further delay on them, all of the economic and Church Street Marketplace indicators that we regularly monitor show that the downtown is continuing to grow and thrive. Our gross receipts taxes, which are an indicator of activity and visitation to downtown Burlington, have remained at a historic high over the last two years. Meanwhile, sales tax receipts, which are a measure of the volume of sales by Burlington’s merchants, have leveled off, but this evenness is a sign of reassuringly strong downtown performance given the closure of approximately 280,000 square feet of retail space between the mall and Macy’s. In 2018, two-thirds of Church Street Marketplace retailers reported that their sales were up from the year before. And finally, studies and media reports have shown that despite the removal of the former, rusting mall parking garage, even during our busiest times of year, downtown Burlington has ample parking for visitors and residents alike, especially at the City-owned Lakeview and College Street garages. (See the numbers on gross receipts and sales taxes here).

Background: Turning Urban Renewal into a Vibrant Mixed-Use Neighborhood

This part of our downtown has been problematic since the former neighborhood was removed by Urban Renewal during the 1960s. In many ways the site was a tear in the urban fabric for decades: a characterless brick box that fronted Cherry and Bank streets with long, windowless walls, severing the vital Pine and St. Paul Street corridors, and home to a suburban-style shopping mall in a slow, sad decline. Without City action, the mall's depressing demise would have drained life from the downtown core making recovery more difficult. Now the mall is gone – at the developer’s considerable expense – and the reknitting of Pine and St. Paul Streets is ensured by the City’s Official Map. While change is coming slower than we wanted, we are much closer to restoring a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood to this part of the City than we have been in decades, and the developers cannot turn back.

Moving Forward

We are demanding Brookfield give the public a much fuller update on their plans and the project status as soon as possible. The next update should include:

  • Plans and illustrations of the project changes Brookfield is pursuing;
  • A plan to minimize public right of way impacts during this extended construction period;
  • Commitments to minimize the impacts of delay on neighbors and support the continued health of downtown; and
  • A general project timeline that includes on-the-ground progress as soon as possible and makes every effort to meet UVM Medical Center’s needs and bring jobs to downtown Burlington.

We look forward to hearing more from Brookfield soon, and to sharing further updates on and explanations of the City’s actions as we can. Over the last seven years this Administration – working in partnership with the City Council and many others – has made considerable progress with strengthening our municipal finances, improving our public infrastructure, reviving the northern waterfront, rebuilding the Bike Path, and addressing the opioid crisis. We will continue to bring the same focus, judgment, and – especially – persistence that has produced positive results on these fronts and others to completing this vital effort to strengthen our downtown.

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