Burlington Settles Lawsuit With CityPlace Developers | Off Message

Burlington Settles Lawsuit With CityPlace Developers


From left: Dave Farrington, Al Senecal and Scott Ireland at the CityPlace site in Burlington - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • From left: Dave Farrington, Al Senecal and Scott Ireland at the CityPlace site in Burlington
Updated at 8:01 p.m.

The City of Burlington and the developers of the CityPlace Burlington project have reached a settlement that they say will allow construction on the long-stalled project to finally move forward.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the agreement protects the city's investment in the downtown project, which has been tangled in litigation and construction delays for years.

It also achieves Weinberger's primary goal of reconnecting St. Paul and Pine streets to the city grid at no cost to taxpayers.

"No matter what happens now with the project that the developer is pursuing, the city will get our streets," Weinberger said. "The developer's success ultimately will mean hundreds of new homes, jobs and activity in the heart of our city, which in turn will be a success for all of Burlington."

The city council is expected to review the agreement Monday night and could vote on approving the deal on February 16.

“We are excited that now we can move the project forward, pending approval by the City Council in February,” managing partner Don Sinex said in a press release Friday afternoon. "Once underway, the project will provide a desperately needed economic ‘shot-in-the-arm’ to Downtown Burlington and surrounding Chittenden County, as well as a much needed stimulus following the devastating impact caused to the community by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The agreement resolves the lawsuit filed by the city last summer, which alleged the project owners had violated a development agreement that promised construction would continue "without interruption" after the Burlington Town Center mall was torn down in 2017. 

Brookfield Asset Management took control of the project in 2019, five years after Sinex first proposed the redevelopment in the center of town. After Brookfield abandoned the project last summer, Sinex brought on three new, local partners: Dave Farrington of Farrington Construction, Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction and Scott Ireland of S.D. Ireland.

The parties entered mediation in late November, which resulted in a new development agreement. The 98-page document says the developers have agreed to rebuild portions of St. Paul and Pine streets that were cut off by the former mall. The city will reimburse the $3.2 million cost with tax-increment financing dollars — or, the tax revenue generated by the project itself — but only if construction begins within two years.

The original design was expected to generate enough additional tax revenue to pay for $21 million in public improvements, including the St. Paul and Pine projects and upgrades to streets surrounding CityPlace. The scaled-down, 10-story design now in play is estimated to generate between $8 and $10 million in revenue, though Weinberger said he still expects some of the additional upgrades can be built.
CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
The developers must also pay the city $150,000 in property taxes for each year lost to construction delays. The city expects to net up to $450,000, depending on when construction begins, Weinberger said.

It wasn't immediately clear on Friday afternoon when the developers planned to break ground. But the development agreement says the entire project should be completed by July 2025.

The partners are in the midst of applying for a competitive mortgage program through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. If the project is approved, loans for CityPlace would be federally protected against default. The AFL-CIO Housing Trust, which oversees a multibillion-dollar mutual fund, has expressed interest in investing in CityPlace if the partners get HUD backing. CityPlace owners have agreed to hire union workers if all goes as planned.

The project must also earn approval from the Development Review Board before construction can commence. The developers have proposed more than 400 housing units and parking spaces; 45,000 square feet of retail space; a shared community space and rooftop observation deck. The project is on the Development Review Board's March 3 agenda.

Weinberger said the new partners have demonstrated a "credible, feasible path" to get the project completed.

"The developers now are not the same entity that was before. There now are these three respected local partners who have a history of getting things done, getting things built in this community," Weinberger said.

"We think it could succeed, and we we wish the developers well," he added. "We'll be supportive of them going forward because their success is Burlington's success."