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Burlington Mall Developers Continue To Provide Assurances And Few Details About Stalled Project

Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen at a table, speaking.
Liam Elder-Connors
Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen updates Burlington City Councilors about the stalled CityPlace Burlington project Monday night. Olsen did not give any specific details about changes to the project or a timeline.

After more than a month of silence, developers of Burlington's downtown mall still won't say when construction on the project will begin or what specific changes might be coming — and city leaders are growing frustrated by the lack of information.

Representatives from Brookfield Properties appeared Monday night before the Burlington City Council, the first public update about the project since news broke last month that the 14-story mixed-use development would be scaled back.

In a brief update, Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen repeated the company's commitment to CityPlace and promised to provide more updates.

"We are 100% committed to this project," Olsen said. "We would not have sent three people here, in a tie, to Burlington to not commit to that."

But Olsen did not provide any specific timeline or details about changes to the project, saying a pending lawsuit limits what he can say publicly. That lawsuit alleges that developers changed the amount of parking in the project and violated the terms of a settlement to a previous lawsuit.

"This is a very big, complex project and we are actively putting significant resources to work to try to find a path forward," Olsen said, "and as soon as we're in a position to give you a full update, we will." 

City Council President Kurt Wright, a Republican, expressed surprise when Brookfield finished its update at Monday's meeting.

"That's it for the presentation?" Wright asked. "OK, I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of questions."

Many councilors expressed frustration at the lack of communication from Brookfield. Progressive City Councilor Brian Pine told Brookfield that, going forward, it was essential to provide more information.

“It may make you a little bit queasy and uncomfortable to share, but I think that's what a public-private partnership is," Pine said.

"The time for playing nice has long since passed, and I would certainly advocate for us taking a much harder line with the developer." — Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy

Progressive Councilor Max Tracy, a longtime critic of the project, blasted Brookfield; he said the company has taken advantage of the city's goodwill.

"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," Tracy said speaking during the meeting by phone.

Councilor Joan Shannon, a Democrat, said she hoped the situation wouldn't reach a point where the city needs to penalize Brookfield.

"But we do need to see some progress for it to not come to that," Shannon said. "We do need to see that you're at least making progress to remove the current severe negative impacts that you have by being in our right of way."

Brookfield took over the daily operations earlier this year, but the international developer has released few details about the project. In a statement last month, Brookfield gave no details about specific changes coming to the CityPlace project, but indicated that construction would not be starting anytime soon.

The announcement that the CityPlace project would be scaled back was the latest setback for a project that's faced numerous delays— if all had gone according to initial plans, it would be nearly finished by now. But the site, in the center of the city's downtown, has been quiet for over a year.

More from VPR — A Timeline Of Burlington's CityPlace Project

It's unclear how much longer the site will remain empty. Wright asked Monday if there was a general timeline he could share with his constiutents.

"Are we looking at the hole in the ground in downtown Burlington being there with nothing moving forward for 10 years, five years, four years?" Wright said.

Olsen paused for a moment before answering: "It's certainly not going to be 10 years or even four," he said. "I think you can anticipate seeing some action in the near term, in the next year."

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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