Business & Economy

After setbacks, spring start likely for construction on CityPlace Burlington

A sign at the CityPlace construction site in August. Photo by Alexandre Silberman/VTDigger

Don’t expect construction to start on CityPlace Burlington until spring. That was the message from a Burlington city councilor following a closed-door session with city officials Tuesday night.

City Councilor Dave Hartnett said Wednesday the foundation wouldn’t be poured until the spring, with the upcoming winter weather playing a major role in waiting.

“We’re confident construction will start in spring 2019,” he said.

The delay marks another setback for the major downtown development project that developer Don Sinex had once hoped to open in October 2018. Just last month, Sinex said he expected to pour the foundation within a few weeks.

Sinex and city officials have sparred in recent months over the permits and timeline for the project, which is being financed by Brookfield Asset Management.

While Sinex said that weather is a factor in the timeline of the construction decisions, he said that he is still evaluating when the restart of the project will occur.

“It may very well be in the spring, stay tuned,” he said in an email Wednesday.

Though financing for the project has not been completely secured, Sinex reiterated that conversations with Brookfield are going “very well” and that he expects to come to an agreement on the terms and conditions proposed by prospective lenders in a month or two.

Dave Hartnett

Burlington City Councilor Dave Hartnett at a meeting in October 2017. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

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“That will be the final financing amount and the issue will be put to bed completely,” he said.

Hartnett, who has been highly critical of Sinex, said he also anticipates a major, positive announcement on project financing from Brookfield in coming weeks.

“The city is very hopeful they will be making a financial commitment, and a public relations effort to reinstall faith in the project,” Hartnett said. “We have been in direct contact with Brookfield, and we feel confident Brookfield is in this thing for the long haul, and I don’t think we could have said that a month ago.”

The CityPlace project will replace the former Burlington Square Mall on prime real estate in the city’s downtown. Despite the City Council’s August decision to allow Sinex to pour the foundation without having all the funding for the project lined up, there has been no major construction activity since the demolition of old buildings on the site was completed in mid-August.

Concrete can be poured in cold weather if steps are taken to prevent it from freezing, but it is risky. If the concrete freezes early, the formation of ice weakens the cement and causes an “irreparable loss in strength,” according to the Portland Cement Association, an industry organization.

Hartnett said that he was feeling much more confident about the status of the project after Tuesday’s meeting, but wouldn’t detail the discussions that took place during the executive session.

Donald Sinex

Donald Sinex speaks at the annual Vermont Democrats fundraiser in Burlington in November 2017. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

Neale Lunderville, director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, attorney Jeremy Farkas and Jeff Glassberg, a consultant the city hired to manage the CityPlace project, participated in the discussion with the council.

Lunderville declined to answer questions about the timeline of the project or what was said in the executive session.

“We had an executive sessions because we are discussing an agreement that is still in negotiation, and we don’t want to put the city at a disadvantage by sharing those privileged conversations with the counterparty, in this case,” Lunderville said.

The city is in discussions with Sinex to allow valet parking at the construction site during the upcoming holiday season, Sinex said.

Despite the improved outlook, Hartnett blasted Sinex, saying he had been disrespectful and dishonest in his dealings with the City Council.

“We need a relationship with a developer that we can trust, that he will be honest with us, and he will represent Burlington values,” he said. “And right now, Don Sinex doesn’t represent any of those three values.”

Sinex said that he was “shocked” by Hartnett’s criticism leading up to the meeting in a Burlington Free Press article.

CityPlace

The CityPlace Burlington development in a rendering by PKSB Architects.

“His comments could not come at a worst time, as I am currently in substantive negotiations with both tenants and lenders and his specific comments aroused a lot of the people I am negotiating with at this time,” Sinex said. “I believe it is high time to keep the rhetoric to a minimum and everyone should cool down.”

Sinex said that the delay in construction is common for projects on the scale of CityPlace and will not cause any lasting or material harm to the project.

Councilor Adam Roof said he believes that the city will be able to overcome the project’s current hurdles, and that Tuesday’s meeting increased that optimism.

“I remain confident that we are going to get a good project out of that site,” he said.

Roof said the council expects a public update will be sent out in the next seven to 10 days.

Lunderville said Mayor Miro Weinberger and other city officials are focused on ensuring the success of the project.

“There’s a lot of other noise, we are trying to look past that on the important thing, which is a great project,” he said.

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Aidan Quigley

About Aidan

Aidan Quigley is VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter. He most recently was a business intern at the Dallas Morning News and has also interned for Newsweek, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor and the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is a 2018 graduate of Ithaca College, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, the student newspaper. He is a native of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Email: [email protected]

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