People frustrated with a massive hole created by a stalled building project in the heart of Vermont’s largest city had an opportunity Thursday to hear directly from the developers behind the $120-million project.
“I want something in that hole,” one woman who attended a public forum at Contois Auditorium inside Burlington City Hall told representatives of Brookfield Asset Management.
At the outset of the work several years ago, the site of the former Burlington Town Center mall was expected to have been transformed into 14 stories of gleaming offices and housing by now. It also was supposed to feature dining and shopping on the ground level.
Instead, the job site is empty and has become a real eyesore.
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After financing struggles, lawsuits, and missed deadlines, Brookfield talked to Burlington community members about their new scaled-down plans.
“It’s about time that we have something happening there,” one attendee of the meeting said from a public microphone.
CityPlace will now be 10 stories, with more than 350 rental apartments, a nearly 200-room hotel, restaurants and retail, with a parking structure for cars and bikes.
The project will be built, developers promised, using eco-friendly practices—including ones aimed at cutting runoff to nearby Lake Champlain.
“Pay attention,” warned Ann Taylor, who addressed the developers at the meeting. “Don’t mess up what we all worked hard for.”
The builders are now targeting August to start construction, they said, with occupancy expected by late 2022 or early 2023.
Alexander LaVin addressed the Brookfield representatives, telling them, “You have a real opportunity here not only to rejuvenate a city but also rejuvenate an entire state,” before also seeking some assurances from the executives that the project will move forward.
“Are you for real?” LaVin asked.
“We wouldn’t be sitting here right now if we weren’t for real,” responded Aanen Olsen of Brookfield Asset Management.
Peter Calkins, the project representative, also assured the audience he wants to see CityPlace succeed.
“We want this to be a very lively and successful project for everyone who’s there,” Calkins said.
Brookfield called its updated vision for CityPlace a potential national poster child for how to transform tired, underperforming malls into vibrant mixed-use properties.
However, with many in the community anxious for signs of progress, word from Brookfield that they’re still looking for funding deals did raise some eyebrows.
“I like that we’re moving forward, but I’m really scared that we don’t have financing,” Caryn Long, who attended Thursday’s meeting, told NECN after the forum concluded.
Rick Sharp, who owns a business that provides tours of Burlington via Segway transporters, welcomed the news that a hotel was included in the new plans.
However, Sharp said trust has been lost between some community members and leaders of the project, due to previous delays and inaction.
“The way that you earn our trust is by communicating with us,” Sharp told Brookfield from the floor of Contois Auditorium.
“We’ve heard that message and so you’ll be hearing more from us,” Olsen told Sharp.
The developers also plan to turn a closed Macy’s department store next to that big hole in the middle of the city into office space for area businesses and organizations.