Burlington’s multiyear effort to redevelop the decrepit Moran Plant is no more.
Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Friday that the city has abandoned its negotiations with New Moran, a group of developers who were working to bring new life to the old coal-fired power plant along the city’s waterfront. Instead, the building will likely be demolished and the site remediated — at a price tag of at least $4 million and upwards of $10.7 million, according to city estimates.
At a press conference Friday afternoon in City Hall Park, Weinberger painted redevelopment as a valiant effort at a Sisyphean task. “What the New Moran team was trying to do was very hard,” he told reporters. “There’s a reason that for more than 30 years this building has remained abandoned and vacant.”
Officials instead appear prepared to knock down the building, though Weinberger was evasive when asked for specifics. The city’s Community and Economic Development Office will create a “site resolution plan” that will examine potential uses of the property and the associated costs, according to a statement from the city. That study is expected in the fall of 2018.
City voters in 2014 approved the use of $6.3 million in tax increment financing towards redevelopment of the old power plant building, which shuttered in 1986. If the redevelopment plans with New Moran didn’t work out, Weinberger promised, the facility would be torn down.
The discussions with the developers fell apart after three years and multiple rounds of negotiations. Weinberger attributed the failed deliberations to construction risks, environmental challenges and financial uncertainty. “There was a lot of potential for problems that would have required the city to go beyond its $6 million commitment,” Weinberger said.
Still, he acknowledged, “This was a difficult decision to make and not one I wanted to come to.”
Mayor Miro Weinberger speaks at a press conference Friday.
Weinberger said that he’d be looking into other options besides another city park, though he said he didn’t know what exactly the end result might look like. The city is bound by the state’s Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the property serve a public purpose, while the moribund building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. There will be a “significant public input and process” before a decision on reuse is made, Weinberger said.
The city on Friday also released an unredacted version of a report that examined different scenarios for demolishing the building and the associated costs of environmental remediation. Since April, the city has denied multiple Seven Days’ requests for the costs associated with demolition. The mayor’s office returned a July records request with more than 390 pages of redacted material — and no estimated costs. Weinberger later denied an appeal of the redactions, claiming that publicly releasing the information would have put the city “at a substantial disadvantage” in the negotiations with the developers.
The unredacted documents show that demolition won’t be cheap. Depending on how much of the foundation and polluted soils at the site are removed, city estimates found it could cost more than $10 million. Weinberger said he hoped that the $6.3 million in city coffers would be sufficient to cover costs for demolition and reuse.
The money’s been waiting since Town Meeting Day 2014, when Burlingtonians approved TIF funding for a variety of waterfront projects, including the millions for Moran redevelopment. That August, the New Moran team, which included rookie developers Tad Cooke and Erick Crockenberg, along with their more senior partner, Charlie Tipper, signed a memorandum of understanding with the city. It gave the group exclusive rights to redevelopment. That agreement fell through in July 2016.
The city tried again later that year to generate interest in redeveloping the site by putting out a request for proposals — but only New Moran applied. The city granted them another shot, and the trio presented in January a new proposal to the Burlington City Council: redeveloping the facility with community space and venues for rent at a cost of $15.4 million dollars. They planned to break ground by the end of this year.
Friday’s announcement made clear that’s not going to happen.
“The city was just not confident that the project would succeed,” Weinberger said. “Without that confidence, we couldn’t move forward.”