The people planning to redevelop the Moran Plant pitched their idea — and the mayor and Burlington voters embraced it — without knowing whether they could come up with the money needed to make it happen. On Monday, they announced promising news: After courting 42 possible donors, the developers say they’ve determined that their fundraising goal — $11 million — is feasible.
Eight months ago, Burlington city officials and voters agreed to devote $6.3 million in tax increment financing to a plan to redevelop the long-defunct coal plant on the waterfront. But that sum was far less than the estimated total project cost. Meanwhile, that number has crept up — originally $26 million, the developers are now putting the price at $34 million.
The potential Moran developers spent the spring, summer and fall figuring out just how feasible their plan was, and they hired a private firm, Resilient Philanthropy, to assess how much they could raise through charitable donations. In a brief letter sent to the mayor today (as part of a larger feasibility study) the firm concluded that $11 million is an “achievable” goal. They sat down with potential philanthropists — both in and beyond Burlington — who are capable of giving six- or seven-figure donations, according to their letter. Names and details of these conversations won't be released, but the level of interest was, apparently, encouraging.
The group has raised $1.4 million of that total so far, according to project partner Tad Cooke. He acknowledged that convincing people to make major donations to a brand-new organization — the group established itself as a nonprofit several months ago — is a challenge. To give prospective donors more confidence, Cooke said, they are currently trying to secure what’s called a “leadership pledge” of roughly $3 million.
The group is also hoping to secure $14 million in federal tax credits and grants and $2 million in program-related investments — a type of loan or equity investment that foundations supply to nonprofits.
The plan involves converting the former coal plant — which has sat dormant for more than three decades — into a large event space for performances, art exhibits and meetings; a "market hall" to display activities such as beer brewing, glass blowing and local food production, and workspaces for local organizations.
For those attached to the brick building — which is seven stories high and six decades old — the stakes are high. Mayor Miro Weinberger decided that if this proposal fails, the city will demolish the structure rather than attempt another project.
Cooke and Erick Crockenberg hatched the original idea when they were undergraduates at the University of Vermont. They later recruited redeveloper and real estate investor Charlie Tipper as a third partner, and more recently they’ve formed a board of directors and a group of 23 advisors they’re calling the Championship Council.
Weinberger said in a statement, "I am encouraged by the supporters and enthusiasm that New Moran has secured to date, and by the team's optimism regarding a successful, large capital campaign. The city will be reviewing and evaluating the New Moran feasibility report carefully in the weeks ahead."