Peter Calkins, at mic, speaking at Thursday's meeting
Given an opportunity to confront the CityPlace Burlington developers on Thursday, Alexander LaVin had just one question.
"Are you for real?" he asked representatives from Brookfield Asset Management, the project's majority owner. The crowd inside of Burlington City Hall erupted into applause.
"We wouldn't be sitting here right now if we weren’t for real," replied Aanen Olsen, Brookfield's vice president of development. "We appreciate what the city has been through in the last year and a half, and we absolutely do take it for real."
That goal, they say, is still in sight. The developers are working to obtain state and local permits, a process Olsen said could take six months. Construction is scheduled to begin in August, he said; the project should be complete and occupied by 2023.
One big question mark: financing. Brookfield still doesn't have it, Olsen said, though the Bank of the Ozarks is "interested." The company is exploring "all avenues" to fund the project, the company exec continued.
The new design is about 25 percent smaller than the original proposal, and will top out at 10 stories tall. That's compared to the 14 stories the developers once imagined, a height that divided city denizens.
Brookfield said in the fall that its new design would include 318 units of housing. But designs shown Thursday depicted 357 units, including 72 affordable apartments. Similarly, the proposed hotel will be bigger: 196 rooms, compared to the 174 imagined in an earlier iteration.
Despite the months of delays and extended periods of public silence, the developers received a relatively warm welcome Thursday afternoon from the audience, which spilled into the balcony. Another 90-minute presentation and question-and-answer session was planned for later Thursday.
Most of those who took the mic expressed gratitude that Brookfield appeared to be moving forward with the plans. Others offered suggestions to improve the design, particularly expanding the "green" roof. The plans call for only 10 percent of the roof to feature vegetation.
City Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) said she was concerned that the proposed amount of retail square footage had been reduced from the original. She said she hopes Brookfield will land commercial tenants for shoppers of all income levels.
"What will there be here to draw people from outside in, and what will there be here for the community members who once did business in Burlington that were displaced?" she asked.
Ann Taylor, in orange at the mic, amid the crowd at Thursday's presentation
Peter Calkins, Brookfield's senior vice president of development, acknowledged Bushor's desire for more shopping but said the company wants to keep retail storefronts on the street level. He added that Brookfield has tried to address the public's calls for retail and housing while also staying within a smaller budget. The original proposal was too big and expensive to build, Calkins said.
Not everyone was impressed by what they saw. In an interview after Brookfield's presentation, Nancy Kirby had doubts about whether the apartments will actually be "affordable," and said she expects those tenants won't be given a nice lake view.
A Queen City resident for 69 years, Kirby said she's seen family businesses and homes razed in the name of urban renewal. She thinks Brookfield is making empty promises.
"I don't want some fly-by-night bank coming in here and trying to fill that hole," Kirby said. "It's going to take more than that to fill the hole in my heart."
Others were convinced that Brookfield will follow through.