Will Burlington Voters Approve a Last-Ditch Plan for the Moran Plant? | City | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Will Burlington Voters Approve a Last-Ditch Plan for the Moran Plant? 

click to enlarge Moran Plant's current state

Moran Plant's current state

The Price of Demolition

Tearing down an old power plant isn't cheap. The most recent estimate to raze the seven-story Moran Plant set the price somewhere between $2 and $3 million, according to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. And that was five years ago.

In urging voters to make $6 million in tax-increment financing dollars available for the ambitious "New Moran" plan to remake the long-idle generating station, Weinberger has also made a provision for a dramatic Plan B: Draw from the same pot of money earmarked for the plant's resurrection to knock it down instead. He says "blight removal" is a justifiable use of TIF dollars, which are normally used to promote economic development and create public infrastructure.

Not everyone supports the mayor's either/or approach. Louis Mannie Lionni, a Burlington architect who's been an outspoken champion of the plant, said he's "strongly opposed to any proposal that even suggests demolition," and there's nothing wrong with letting the superannuated plant remain in a state of disrepair. "It's very difficult for people to accept an empty building, but the fact is it's an honorable building, and I think it's entitled to sit there in a dignified way."

Weinberger points out that tearing down the building wouldn't prevent future developments on the site. It would, however, make them harder. That's because an array of new environmental regulations has been added since the Moran Plant stopped burning coal in 1986. Any new structure would likely have fewer stories and be located farther from the water, among other things. And of course it would still have to adhere to the Public Trust Doctrine, a legal principle stipulating that certain resources be reserved for public purposes.

Weinberger emphasizes that his preference is to keep the building intact; "I want this to work. I have always been someone who saw a value in the building, in the soaring spaces, the views, its relationship to the lake."

—Alicia Freese

TIF Talk

The Weinberger administration wants to use a tool known as tax-increment financing, aka TIF, to cover $6.3 million in infrastructure improvements related to the "New Moran" project.

Ballot item No. 2 on Town Meeting Day asks Burlington voters to allow the city to borrow that sum, along with an additional $3.3 million for other waterfront initiatives.

The total $9.6 million TIF package would have no impact on current city taxpayers; the debt is to be paid by tax revenues generated over the next 20 years as a result of the TIF investment in public infrastructure. And those TIF funds are "conceptually anticipated to leverage" about $33 million in spending on waterfront projects by sources other than the city, according to a campaign pamphlet distributed by proponents of a "yes" vote on ballot item No. 2.

Mayor Miro Weinberger is also pledging that the $6.3 million New Moran portion of the TIF bond will not be spent unless the project's private developers meet a series of benchmarks during the next two years. The TIF authorization ballot item on March 4 stipulates that if New Moran does not go forward, a portion of the funding will be used to demolish the defunct power plant.

The mayor is seeking to persuade skeptical voters to support a potential public investment in the Moran plant by pointing to "beloved elements of today's waterfront" that the $9.3 million TIF package would also fund. The campaign piece paid for by a Weinberger-backed political action committee cites proposed spending on enhancements of the Community Sailing Center, the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, and Waterfront Park.

—Kevin J. Kelley

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About The Author

Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese was a Seven Days staff writer from 2014 through 2018.

More by Alicia Freese

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