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Burlington City Councilors Not Impressed With Update On Stalled Downtown Project

Burlington Town Center rendering
Burlington VT Mayor's Office
rendering of planned Burlington Town Center development

Burlington City Councilors heard an update on a stalled downtown redevelopment project at their meeting Monday evening. They were displeased with the lack of information provided by developers as to when construction will restart on what has become an eyesore in the center of the downtown.
In late 2013, a $200 million plan to tear down the Burlington Town Center and rebuild the downtown mall was put before the city as a project that would bring affordable housing, office and retail space, jobs, revamped streetscapes and new tax revenues to the city.

In November 2016, voters approved up to $21.8 million dollars for public improvements to create a new City Place project.  Demolition of the old mall began in the spring of 2018 but the project stalled, leaving a hole in the center of downtown. Brookfield Properties then took control from the original developer.
During Monday’s City Council meeting several residents and merchants, including Richard Hillyard, expressed frustration.  “We have been promised fresh retail, affordable housing and what I think is the most bogus promise of all 750 new jobs.”
“My name is Caryn Long.  Property tax revenue on the City Place property is down $200,000 and our downtown and its businesses are suffering.”
“Hi my name is Noah Crosby. I’m the owner and operator of Randolin Music. And what I’m really concerned about is you’ve taken over 600 parking places and now we have no parking and I’ve just been watching my business shrink by alarming rates.”

Following the public comment period, three representatives of Brookfield Properties provided an update on the status of the City Place development. Following introductions and an explanation as to why three new people from the company are now leading the process, Vice President Aanen Olsen offered a short overview.  “Moving forward we will be working collaboratively with the administration, counsel and stakeholders to ensure we deliver a project that is consistent with the community’s values and goals. Right now there are two major constraints to why we can’t share more. One the project is the subject of active litigation and the second this is a very big complex project and we are actively putting significant resources to work to try to find a path forward. And as soon as we’re in a position to give you a full update we will.”
Council President Kurt Wright:  “That’s it?”
Olsen:  “That’s it.”

The lack of details did not please city leaders including Republican Council President Kurt Wright.  “Right now the headline I think to this would be: Brookfield comes to the council to tell the council that they have nothing to tell the council.”

Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracey was the most outspoken critic of the developers.  “This failure to provide transparency as well as the failure to maintain consistent construction is in violation of the development agreement. What I would hope is that we would pursue a course of increasing penalties and accountability.  The time for playing nice has long since passed and I would certainly advocate for us to take a much harder line with the developer.”

Ward 1 Independent Sharon Foley Bushor is not comfortable that the representatives from Brookfield Properties keep changing.  “I don’t know if we’re a priority for you. The lack of communication to the council suggests otherwise. The thing that really is looming now for me is that we may be facing a recession and I don’t know how that’s going to play out for this project and I think that many residents and many business are worried about that too.”

Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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