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Weinberger: Last Chance For Moran Plant Redevelopment

The Moran Plant has sat empty on Burlington's Waterfront for 30 years.

Take a walk down by Burlington’s waterfront and your eye will first be drawn to the expansive view of Lake Champlain. Your stroll will take you along a wide, wood-planked boardwalk, giving way to a winding, paved lane flanked by stretches of well-manicured grass, and you’ll eventually come upon a skateboard park and a generous dog park, with art sculptures on the route, all pleasantly within view of the big Lake.

And then, there it is. An enormous, almost brooding hulk of a building, industrial, run down, and empty. It’s a former electrical generation plant that’s sat obstinately along the waterfront for decades, and like the joke about the weather, it’s something everyone complains about, but that no one has done anything to change.

But that could change with the announcement this week by Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger of an ambitious plan to redevelop the city’s waterfront. Mayor Weinberger spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb about the plan.

The mayor’s proposal is for the city to spend up to $9.6 million in funds from the Waterfront Tax Increment Financing district for public improvements to the waterfront. (See a PDF of the project map.)The plan would leverage an estimated $33 million in private and independent investment.

Mayor Weinberger outlined the six point plan in a letter to Burlington residents.

  • “New Moran: up to $6.3 million for a mixed-use redevelopment of the building with a focus on green energy innovation, local foods, and a multi-purpose arts and events space.  The proposed investment includes $4.2 million of new TIF investment and reauthorization of a $2.1 million investment previously approved by the City Council in 2011. 
  •  Waterfront Park Upgrades: $800,000 for improved electrical and water infrastructure to enhance Vermont’s most visited public park.  These Waterfront Park upgrades will enable the City to better serve waterfront events while mitigating the impacts of events on neighbors and other users of the park and Bike Path.
  • Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center (CSC): $500,000 to support site improvements for a permanent home and new building for the CSC.  It is time for the 20-year-old Community Sailing Center to have a permanent home on the waterfront.  The proposed TIF investment will leverage approximately $4.5 million of independent investment by the Sailing Center and allow the Sailing Center to expand its programs and services that allow hundreds of Vermonters from all backgrounds to enjoy the Lake every summer. 
  • Burlington Harbor Marina: $500,000 to create a marina on our northern waterfront to meet the burgeoning need for boats slips in our harbor.  The proposed TIF investment will leverage approximately $4.5 million in private investment, create jobs, and generate substantial new revenues to the City.   The proposed marina would include public piers stretching into Lake Champlain, and serve as breakwater protection for both the marina and Community Sailing Center.  The proposal also includes public bathrooms, a variety of currently lacking marina amenities, and water taxi service to increase public access along the entire waterfront.  
  • ECHO Center Sustainability Park: $500,000 to support creation of new outdoor amenities, educational installations, and lake protection facilities on land surrounding ECHO.  New plantings, a boardwalk extension, stormwater mitigation, and educational installations all would be constructed in a first phase of what ultimately is envisioned to be an approximately $3.8 million enhancement to the ECHO site, with the balance to be funded without further direct City investment.
  • Waterfront Access North: $500,000 for increased access to the northern waterfront, landscaping, environmental remediation, lake protection, and utility relocation.   Waterfront Access North currently is in construction after support by the voters last fall.  This additional investment will enable the project to support the use of the Moran site, a permanent home for the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, and a marina.”

Weinberger sees challenge and opportunity in the Moran Plant.
“We’re going to give this one last try. This is what I see as the last chance for a major redevelopment of the building. What is different from this proposal than from past proposals is what we are saying is built into this plan are goals that need to be achieved, and if they aren’t achieved, we’re going to move on and we’re asking voters for the authority to use the money that would go into re-development to take this building down, to say, ‘look, after 30 years of trying to get this done, this building has become an obstacle to progress on the waterfront, and it needs to be removed,” Weinberger said. 

The developer’s plan for the Moran Plant is a mixed-use development that includes local foods, makerspace, public performance space and a number of additional arts uses. The plans are outlined on the site

While the largest part of the plan is for the Moran Plant, Weinberger said that it should be viewed as a redevelopment plan for the northern Waterfront.

“We’ve also said yes to a permanent home for the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, as well as a proposal called the Burlington Harbor Marina. We turn away hundreds and hundreds, I believe, visitors every weekend because there is no space in the Burlington Waterfront. This would be an expansion of 120 slips, 40 moorings that will add to the economic activity on the waterfront. These projects are all taking place in that area from the Moran Building up to the urban reserve so when we say we’re going to get resolution with the northern waterfront, it isn’t just that we know something is going to happen one way or the other with the Moran Plant, we are also committing to that part of the waterfront becoming focused on boating, on sailing, on other types of watercraft, in a way that’s consistent with the what the city has laid out as a major goal,” Weinberger explained.

The Burlington City Council votes on the plan at the end of this month, if they approve it will go on the Town Meeting Day ballot. 

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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