CityPlace Burlington Partners Buy Out Don Sinex | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


CityPlace Burlington Partners Buy Out Don Sinex


Published May 27, 2022 at 11:50 a.m.

  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Don Sinex
Updated at 2:57 p.m.

Don Sinex has sold the CityPlace Burlington project to his three local business partners in a move that the developers say will allow them to finally redevelop the downtown "pit."

In a deal finalized Friday, the partners — Dave Farrington, Al Senecal and Scott Ireland — purchased the three-acre lot for an undisclosed price. Previously, Sinex had 50 percent ownership of the land.

The partners are also in talks to settle the remaining lawsuit against the project, which Farrington said would be "the final roadblock" to obtaining financing for construction — a milestone that has long eluded Sinex.
Farrington said he, Senecal and Ireland were growing frustrated with the project delays, particularly as a key deadline approaches: If they don't start building by September, a development agreement with the city says they have to pay the cost of rebuilding two streets that were severed by the former mall. Otherwise, tax-increment financing funds would reimburse the cost.

"It was a mutual decision, and everybody [was] thinking about what’s best for the project, " Farrington said of the sale. "We are all wicked pumped that this is going to happen now."

Friday's announcements are the most substantial updates on CityPlace Burlington since Farrington, Senecal and Ireland joined the project team in fall 2020. Mayor Miro Weinberger said the change in ownership represents a "major step" toward creating jobs and housing and growing the city's tax base.

"This project will now be led by committed, experienced, local partners who have a long record of delivering successful building projects in our community," the mayor said in a written statement. "I look forward to supporting the new leadership team, and working to ensure that TIF Investment remains a viable part of the plan to build new 'Great Streets' through the project.”

Eight years ago, Sinex unveiled his grand plans to redevelop the aging Burlington Town Center mall into a 14-story shopper's paradise with hundreds of apartments, a convention center and rooftop park. But none of that has come to fruition. The site has been vacant since Sinex demolished the old mall in 2017, earning the derisive nickname "the Pit."
CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
Sinex has offered a number of excuses for the delays, sometimes blaming project opponents, a fellow developer and the city itself, all of whom have sued the developers over the project. City officials were cautiously optimistic when Brookfield Asset Management, one of the world's largest investment firms, took majority ownership of CityPlace three years ago and scaled it down to a more palatable 10 stories tall. But when Brookfield bailed in summer 2020, Mayor Miro Weinberger made clear that the city didn't trust Sinex to get the job done.

Shortly thereafter, Farrington, of Farrington Construction; Senecal, of Omega Electric Construction; and Ireland, of S.D. Ireland, bought shares in the project.

Sinex isn't completely out of the picture. He and the partners still share ownership of the remnants of the former mall — the near-empty building fronting the Church Street Marketplace, plus the four-story L.L. Bean building — and the former Macy's, which is currently occupied by Burlington High School.

Plans for those spaces haven't been revealed, though Farrington said Sinex hopes to discuss concepts at an upcoming Wards 2 & 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting.
Farrington also looks forward to a possible settlement that would end years of litigation from a citizen opposition group. Filed in 2019 by Burlington attorney John Franco, the suit alleges that CityPlace developers violated a prior settlement agreement by not consulting Franco's clients about proposed changes to the project, including a decision to build fewer parking spaces. Farrington declined to share more details about talks but said he's optimistic the parties can find resolution.

Reached Friday afternoon, Franco confirmed that he and his clients have "had our fill of fighting."

"We did not want to stall this project," he said. "We're just very happy to get this behind us and get where we're going."

Meantime, the construction deadline is looming. Brian Pine, director of the Burlington's Community & Economic Development Office, told Seven Days earlier this week that developers have already asked for an extension to the September deadline. City officials declined to entertain the request until the developers can show "substantial progress" toward breaking ground, Pine said.

Farrington said the project team will share more about the construction timeline and project financing in the coming weeks. Once built, CityPlace will offer nearly 430 homes — with 80-plus affordable units developed in partnership with the Champlain Housing Trust — and 40,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and public space, he said.

"We're going to work," Farrington said. "Burlington's going to see some action down there."

Sinex did not immediately return an interview request.

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