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Long-delayed CityPlace Burlington project clears key hurdle, setting stage for construction to start

A photo of a barren stretch of land surrounded by corrugated iron and builds in the distance.
Liam Elder-Connors
/
Vermont Public File
The stalled redevelopment of Burlington's downtown mall could soon be underway. The city council approved a new development agreement with the owners, who say construction could start next week.

The Burlington City Council unanimously approved a new development agreement with the owners of CityPlace, clearing the way for construction to begin on the long-delayed mall redevelopment. The stalled project has left a hole in the heart of the city’s downtown for more than four years.

The owners, a trio of local developers who took over the project from its previous owner earlier this year, have said that construction could begin as soon as next week now that the development agreement has been finalized.

“We're raring to go and excited to get going on this project,” said Dave Farrington, one of the developers and the owner of Farrington Construction.

Farrington’s partners, Scott Ireland and Al Senecal, are also well-known developers in the state. Ireland is the owner and president of S.D. Ireland Concrete Construction, and Senecal owns Omega Electrical Construction company.

More from Vermont Public: From Proposal To Present: A Timeline Of Burlington's CityPlace Project

The new development agreement outlines deadlines for the project, including when the developers need to finish rebuilding two city streets that were once cut off by the old mall. According to the agreement, the streets must be finished by November 2025 in order for the developers to get reimbursed by the city. The city plans to use federal grants and the tax revenue generated from the new development to pay for the streets.

The development agreement only commits the developers to building a concrete podium at the site of the old mall, a vacant lot often called the “pit.” The three buildings that make up the redevelopment will then be built on top of the concrete podium.

“This is a first step, kind of a baby step,” Farrington said. “We’ll be coming back a number of times when we get to the next level.”

“We're raring to go and excited to get going on this project."
Dave Farrington, one of the CityPlace Burlington developers

The CityPlace project has had a tumultuous history, including redesigns, lawsuits and repeated broken promises that construction would begin.

In May, original owner Don Sinex sold his shares to three local developers, Farrington, Senecal and Ireland, who were his partners on the project. The new owners recently settled a lawsuit with a group of residents removing the final hurdles to getting construction on the project underway.

The redevelopment, which will be completed in phases, is slated to have 427 new housing units, with more than 80 set aside as permanently affordable. Champlain Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing developer, will work with the team to build the affordable housing. The development is slated to have retail and restaurant space, and an observation deck that will be open to the public. None of the buildings will be more than 10 stories, smaller than the initial 14-story project pitched by Sinex.

More from Vermont Public: Burlington mall developers, residents agree to settle lawsuit

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the new development team has made a lot of progress, though he cautioned that there could still be delays ahead given the complexity of the project.

“I want to be clear with the council — we could face challenges in the future,” he said on Tuesday. “This is not the end zone here, this is a key milestone, but it is not the finish line.”

“I want to be clear with the council — we could face challenges in the future. This is not the end zone here, this is a key milestone, but it is not the finish line.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger

City councilors praised the new owners for moving the project forward and congratulated Weinberger and his administration for working to bring this new development agreement to the table. Several also praised Farrington and his partners, particularly for their track record of building projects in Vermont.

“When you came on board to this project, I think in seeing local partners joining this, there was a great deal of thought that, ‘Well, now we have some folks who really have some reputations on the line,’” said Ward 5 Councilor Ben Traverse.

Ward 7 Councilor Ali Dieng congratulated the mayor and the developers for their work on the project, but expressed concern that the city could end up stuck in another cycle of delays.

“I want us to use words that if it goes south … that we can stand up and accept to be held accountable,” Dieng said. “I do not want us to go forward and for this podium to become a pit.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors.

Corrected: November 2, 2022 at 11:27 AM EDT
This post has been updated to correct the number of affordable units expected to be included in the CityPlace project.
Liam is a reporter based in Burlington and covers a variety of issues, including courts, law enforcement and housing.
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