Mayor Miro Weinberger has sent a default letter to the developers of a stalled redevelopment project in the center of downtown Burlington, threatening legal action.
In 2013 Devonwood Investors CEO Don Sinex bought the downtown Burlington Town Center Mall and 11 months later, in November 2014, unveiled a $200 million redevelopment plan. Construction on the new CityPlace was planned between 2017 and 2019. In December 2017, the Town Center Mall was demolished. No other work has occurred on the site since then.
In 2018 Brookfield Properties became managing partner of the CityPlace project with Don Sinex a minority partner. It revamped the proposal to a $120 million, 10-story development to begin construction in 2020.
During a call with Brookfield managers earlier this month Mayor Miro Weinberger said it was clear that the developers have no intention of completing the project. “Despite repeatedly affirming its commitment to the project and with its promises to the City unfulfilled, it became clear that Brookfield is pursuing steps to abandon management of the project and return Don Sinex and his Devonwood Investors group to that role. That result would be unacceptable to the City of Burlington because it would constitute a breach of faith and a betrayal of trust.”
Weinberger says city attorneys have issued a notice of default to Brookfield alleging bad faith and fraud and warning of possible litigation. “In a lawsuit the City would, at a minimum, seek City ownership of the land for the reconnection of St. Paul and Pine Streets and damages for the developer’s failure to rebuild and upgrade eight blocks of public infrastructure in time to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The TIF law includes certain deadlines that may be impossible to meet because of the developer’s inactions and thus endangers the ability to construct the planned $20.8 million in new public infrastructure.”
Weinberger consulted with the president of the Burlington City Council, Progressive Max Tracy, who says it’s crucial to protect the city’s interest and public benefits that the project promised including its key Tax Increment Funding. “So in this case the TIF funding mechanism was going to be used to pay for the reconnection of St. Paul and Pine Streets that were cut off in the ‘60s and ‘70s by the development of the mall. But there’s a time limit on that and that will soon expire. That’s a big reason why the change in the timeline and the developer dragging their feet is particularly problematic because it calls into question our ability to adequately fund these new streets.”
Weinberger opposes Brookfield Properties’ intention to return management to Don Sinex. “We ended up in this place where construction started and then stopped and now we’ve had two years of basically a dormant site. That history came as a result of attempting to make this work with Don so we do have concerns about trying that again.”
Tracy also opposes having Sinex in charge of the development. “I think that most people had their patience worn thin if not exhausted by Don Sinex such that they do not welcome the idea of him taking the helm again. You know we have a hole in the ground and it’s very frustrating for us you know who have been there having spent all this time with folks who are not being straightforward with us and who are in some cases lying to us.”
Calls to Brookfield Properties and Devonwood Investors/Don Sinex were not returned. In published reports Sinex has said he will issue a statement in a week or two.