Business & Economy

CityPlace developers seek another partner while mayor promises ‘major update soon’

The site of the stalled CityPlace development in Burlington. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Almost four months after a trio of local developers bought out Don Sinex to own the first phase of the long-planned CityPlace project, the group is considering bringing on an additional development partner.

CityPlace partners are exploring potential “joint ventures,” “partnerships” or “co-developer opportunities” for the project, Dave Farrington Jr. wrote in an email Thursday. He and his partners Al Senecal and Scott Ireland have spoken with “a few interested entities” and plan to make a decision by Oct. 1, according to Farrington. 

The first phase of the project entails redeveloping the vacant city block between Bank and Cherry streets that is often referred to as “the pit.”

Farrington said the developers have also restarted talks with the Champlain Housing Trust related to an eight-story residential building slated for the site. The project is expected to bring more than 400 units into Burlington’s tight housing market, with at least 80 of them reserved for low- and moderate-income tenants through a partnership with the trust.

“While this project, like any major development, still faces challenges, the new ownership team has made more progress in the last four months than in the prior four years,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said in an emailed statement, adding there will be “a major update soon.”

Though Farrington did not provide details about project financing in his email, he did offer some clarity about the construction timeline. The developers hope to apply for a permit to start foundation work in mid-October, Farrington wrote. He anticipates foundation, parking garage and utilities work to continue through next spring, which is when they expect to erect steel beams for construction at the site.

The partners and city officials are also working to revise the development agreement that was amended early last year. They need to update the missed deadlines for the first phase of the project.

When the agreement was inked in February 2021, Burlington’s waterfront tax increment financing (TIF) district had a deadline of June 2022 for incurring new debt. The pandemic prompted the state legislature to extend the deadline by a year. The city is in discussions with the developer to amend the agreement to reflect the new timeline “as part of a potential comprehensive update to the agreement,” said the mayor’s spokesperson, Samatha Sheehan.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be a negotiation between the city and the local partners around deadlines,” which will be key for the project to receive TIF funding, said Brian Pine, director of the Community and Economic Development Office.

“A lot of people sort of erroneously think it’s the city’s project and that we define the scope of it and we define the timeframe. All of that is under the control of those who own the property,” Pine said.

Farrington declined to comment on specific proposed revisions to the agreement until the mayor has briefed the City Council. 

City Council President Karen Paul wrote in an email that based on several briefings she’s received from the developers in recent months, “my understanding is this project is moving along mostly as anticipated.”

Still in limbo is a lawsuit filed by neighbors taking issue with the original design plan. Despite a verbal agreement to end the legal wrangling after Sinex’s departure, no papers have yet been filed and attorney John Franco who represents concerned neighbors declined to comment on the matter this week.

Sinex, who eight years ago launched Burlington’s CityPlace project, remains a partner in the second and third phases involving the near-empty building fronting the Church Street Marketplace with the four-story L.L. Bean building, and the former Macy's building currently occupied by Burlington High School. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Pine said the developers are in control of the first phase and their communications this summer signal progress. “We’re optimistic that some time later this fall we’re going to see some appreciable progress in the construction aspect of this project. Our focus is really on getting all the pieces lined up,” he said.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: aguha@vtdigger.org

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