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Monday, October 19, 2020

CityPlace Burlington Developers Submit New Plans

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 11:15 PM

A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street - COURTESY OF FREEMAN FRENCH FREEMAN
  • Courtesy of Freeman French Freeman
  • A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street
CityPlace Burlington developers applied for a new zoning permit last week, the latest attempt to get the long-stalled project back on track, project liaison Jeff Glassberg told city councilors Monday night.

Plans submitted by the developers — a new partnership that includes Don Sinex and local businessmen Scott Ireland, Dave Farrington and Al Senecal — call for even more housing than those championed by former majority owner Brookfield Asset Management.

Drawings submitted to the Wards 2 & 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly show more than 420 units of housing, including at least 84 affordable units. Previous plans had 357 apartments. The project would also include 45,000 square feet of ground-level retail shops, a rooftop restaurant and observation deck, 422 parking spots and a community meeting space. Renderings show a 10-story tall south tower and a north tower of nine floors.

The developers also say they intend to make good on their promise to reconnect Pine and St. Paul streets. The city had planned to use $21.8 million in tax increment financing dollars to pay for those and other street improvements, but project delays had put that funding in jeopardy. Glassberg told councilors, however, that the state legislature extended the borrowing deadline for another year.

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

Burlington Sues CityPlace Developers for Breach of Contract

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2020 at 1:47 PM

CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
Updated at 6:04 p.m.

The City of Burlington is taking the developers of the long-stalled CityPlace Burlington project to court.

In a lawsuit filed in Vermont Superior Court earlier this week, the city alleges that mall developers Don Sinex and Brookfield Asset Management violated a development agreement by failing to build the project on an agreed timeline. The city announced the lawsuit in a press release on Thursday.

The filing says developers had promised to continue construction on the new project "without interruption" once the former Burlington Town Center mall was torn down. The city says construction began when the mall was demolished in 2017, while the developers have argued that construction never started.

"Anyone who has looked at the construction site in the last two years knows that’s absurd," Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement. "We’re not going to let them get away with it."

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Board Approves Burton's Plan to Bring Higher Ground to Burlington

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2020 at 7:54 PM

The proposed concert venue space at Burton - FILE: SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • The proposed concert venue space at Burton
The state's largest music venue is one step closer to moving to Burlington.

The city's Development Review Board unanimously voted Tuesday evening to approve Burton Snowboards' application to bring Higher Ground to an unused warehouse on its Queen City Park Road campus. Board member Geoff Hand recused himself from deliberations.

Higher Ground is envisioned as the centerpiece of Burton's planned entertainment hub, which includes a food court and factory tours. Talent Skatepark opened there earlier this year.

The project has been a source of debate for months. Burton and Higher Ground executives say the venue will be compatible with the South End arts scene, but many neighbors have argued it will bring noise and traffic to the residential area. They organized the opposition group Citizens for Responsible Zoning and have hired lawyers and sound experts to fight the project.
The DRB approved the permit with neighbors' concerns in mind, tacking on nearly 20 conditions that Burton must meet to be in compliance. One requires Burton to hire traffic control personnel to redirect post-concert crowds from the nearby Queen City Park neighborhood. The company had agreed to hire flaggers if traffic volumes proved unmanageable after the first 10 events.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Burlington Council Green-Lights Litigation in CityPlace Dispute

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2020 at 1:19 PM

CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
Updated at 9:15 p.m.

Burlington city councilors gave Mayor Miro Weinberger their blessing early Tuesday to sue CityPlace developers Don Sinex and Brookfield Asset Management if negotiations over the long-stalled project sputter out.

The council voted 10-1 to “pursue all legal remedies” should talks with Sinex and Brookfield fail. The vote, taken just after midnight Tuesday, authorized the city to make all "necessary budget allocations to accomplish these ends." Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) cast the lone no vote; Councilor Franklin Paulino (D-North District) was absent.

"The city is really wanting to take strong action against Sinex to make him live up to his promises," Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) told Seven Days later Tuesday morning. "It's looking increasingly likely that we will pursue legal action," he added.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Burlington Officials Celebrate as Work Begins on Moran Plant

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 8:22 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington officials past and present celebrated on Wednesday the groundbreaking of a project that they hope will turn the decrepit Moran Plant into a waterfront tourist attraction.

“For 30 years, the Burlington community has been dreaming and imagining great uses of this unique ... structure,” Mayor Miro Weinberger told an assembled crowd of dozens at Water Works Park, which adjoins the Moran property. “Today, we have found a way to achieve many of the city’s long-held goals for this site.”

Crews have already begun stripping the five-story building’s interior and were busy in the background during Wednesday’s event. Workers will gradually strip the entire brick-encased building, leaving just the steel framework standing amid what will eventually be a city park.

The ceremony included no actual groundbreaking, though gleaming shovels leaned against a nearby chainlink fence surrounding the old coal-fired power plant. Instead, the city gave attendees old bricks from the building, adorned with a label designed by Burlington City Arts commemorating the event.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Burlington to Officially Break Ground on Moran Plant Project

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2020 at 1:00 PM

A rendering of Phase 1a of the Moran plant redesign - COURTESY OF FREEMAN FRENCH FREEMAN
  • Courtesy of Freeman French Freeman
  • A rendering of Phase 1a of the Moran plant redesign
Nearly 35 years after it last belched smoke into the sky, the Moran plant is coming down — most of it, anyway.

City officials will break ground Wednesday afternoon on a “deconstruction” project for the old coal-fired power plant on the Burlington waterfront. The long-awaited redevelopment will remove the outer brick layer of the building and leave the interior steel framework, the centerpiece of a new city park on a waterfront that was once devoted to industry.

Known as the FRAME design, which stands for “Fearless Relook at Moran Electric,” the first phase of the project is expected to take a year to complete, Mayor Miro Weinberger told Seven Days on Tuesday. It’ll “transform what has been up until now an eyesore into an iconic landmark,” he said of the long-vacant building.

“The Moran FRAME concept is unique, it’s authentic to Burlington, and I think it’s quite exciting,” Weinberger said. “This new structure is going to be an enormous piece of public art” that includes public access to the area.

“The framework creates the real potential for those uses to expand and grow over the years,” he added.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Weinberger Unswayed by New CityPlace Burlington Partnership

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 6:32 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Don Sinex
The City of Burlington continues to have "deep and legitimate concerns" about the downtown CityPlace Burlington site, despite developer Don Sinex's assurances that a new partnership will help get the project done.

Sinex announced, in a Burlington Free Press story posted online Friday morning, that he has "a binding agreement" to buy out the majority partners on the project, Brookfield Asset Management. The deal should be finalized within 30 days, subject to "normal closing conditions," Sinex told the paper.

In Brookfield's place, Sinex said he has formed a new partnership with three local businessmen: Scott Ireland of SD Ireland, Dave Farrington of Farrington Construction and Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction. None of the partners, nor Sinex, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Yet the announcement drew a sharp rebuke from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who said in a statement Friday afternoon that Sinex and his firm, Devonwood Investors, have not provided the city "the basic project information that any financial partner would require when contemplating a new agreement."

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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Federal School-Improvement Loan to Save Winooski Millions

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 6:44 PM

Winooski students - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Winooski students
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday a $57.8 million loan to the Winooski School District that will be used to undertake a massive renovation of its facilities. The USDA Rural Development Community Facilities loan is the largest of its kind ever awarded in Vermont.

click image 150-backtoschool20.png
The 30-year loan has an interest rate of 2.25 percent, according to USDA Vermont State Director Anthony Linardos. That low rate will save the district, and Winooski taxpayers, approximately $11 million over the life of the loan, said Winooski School District finance manager Nicole Mace. That’s because the project’s initial estimate — the figure used for a school bond that Winooski voters approved in May of 2019 — used an interest rate projection from the Vermont Bond Bank of 3.63 percent, Mace explained. In response to the economic downturn wrought by COVID-19, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates in March to stimulate the economy, and they remain at a record low.

By Vermont standards, Winooski doesn’t feel particularly rural. But Linardos said that Winooski’s population of fewer than 20,000 qualified it for a rural development loan. It is the only Vermont school district to receive this type of loan — which is awarded for community facilities including hospitals, libraries, schools and municipal buildings — this year. A team from the Winooski School District worked for several months with the USDA to complete the loan application process.

Last year, Winooski voters approved the $57.8 million school renovation bond by a narrow margin — 368 to 346 — to overhaul of the school’s campus on Normand Street. The 140,000-square-foot complex houses all of the district’s approximately 860 students in grades pre-K-12 and was built between 1957 and 2000 to accommodate 650 students. Winooski is one of the few Vermont school districts that is growing; student population is expect to increase by 10 percent in the next two decades, said the district's communications director, Emily Hecker.

Construction began on the project in June and is expected to be completed by August 2022. Burlington architecture firm TruexCullins designed the project, and ReArch Company in South Burlington is managing the construction.

According to Hecker, renovations will include updating classroom spaces, changing and relocating athletic fields, and replacing roofs and outdated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

On Thursday, Winooski School Board president Mike Decarreau, who graduated from Winooski High School more than 40 years ago, explained the dire need for this work. Since he was a student, “the high school building hasn’t changed a bit,” he said. In the spring, he continued, “the south side of the building is an oven.” And when it rains hard, there’s a “bucket brigade” that positions containers to catch water from leaks.

Existing buildings will be renovated to create a new performing arts center, a new cafeteria and a high school “hub,” said Hecker. An estimated additional 63,153 square feet of additions will include a new gym, the expansion of student services offices and an early education wing. A new community services center will include a “grab-and-go” café, a food pantry, a dental care room, and an adult learning and engagement space for English language learners.

School board member Alex Yin said on Thursday that upgrading the campus to create a place where Winooski’s students — more than 50 percent of whom are nonwhite — can “feel at home” will suggest to them that “they do matter to us” and that Vermont “is a place where we all belong.”

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Brookfield Looks to Abandon Stalled CityPlace Burlington Project

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2020 at 6:03 PM

CityPlace Burlington construction site - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • CityPlace Burlington construction site
Brookfield Asset Management wants to abandon the long-stalled CityPlace Burlington project, prompting the city to threaten the international company with legal action for repeatedly failing to make good on its promises to redevelop the downtown plot.

In announcing the news on Wednesday, Mayor Miro Weinberger told reporters that the city had sent Brookfield a notice of default outlining various breaches of an agreement to develop the site. He said he'll give Brookfield, the majority owner of the site, "a short window of time" to prove it's committed to the project before the city files suit.

"Brookfield should keep its commitment to the people of Burlington and see the project through to completion, as it has repeatedly promised," the mayor said during the Zoom press conference. "If not, the city will do everything in our power to see that Brookfield suffers consequences for this breach."

The city sent the default letter on Saturday after learning late last week that Brookfield, in an effort to settle a partnership dispute with project minority owner Don Sinex, would be walking away from the project. Brookfield indicated that Sinex's firm, Devonwood Investors, would take over.

"It appears to the City that Brookfield has been contemplating this action
for some time, and that its earlier assurances and reassurances were knowingly false when made and designed to induce the City's continued support of the Project," the city's default letter reads.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Act 250 Bill Hits Quagmire in the Latest Act of a Long Legislative Drama

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 8:39 PM

  • File: Tim Newcomb
An effort to loosen environmental laws in downtowns while toughening them in rural areas unraveled Monday after senators labeled the bill an inappropriate attempt to weave together unrelated pieces of legislation.

The procedural snag is the latest act in a long legislative drama over how Vermont should modernize Act 250, the 50-year-old landmark environmental law.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, acting as president of the Senate, on Friday and again Monday agreed with objections that the environmental amendments were not “germane” to the underlying affordable housing bill.

That parliamentary maneuver prompted Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) to pull the bill from consideration — for now.

The setback was disappointing but not fatal to the effort to update the law, said Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison), chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

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