On Tuesday night, the Burlington City Council gave its blessing to a plan to redesign the Moran building, the most significant progress toward remodeling the old coal-fired power plant since it was decommissioned in 1986.
The unanimous vote gave Mayor Miro Weinberger's administration permission to move forward with the project and to borrow the cash to fund it. The plan, which the city's Community Economic Development Office presented in December, proposes filling in the basement of the old structure and removing the brick exterior.
It would leave in place a steel skeleton. The open-air space would include public restrooms and space for vendors and concerts. Additional walkways, public art, a performance venue, a viewing deck or outdoor areas could also be added to the project in the future, pending additional funding.
The plan would cost $5.6 million; the city already has $2 million in hand from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The remaining $3.6 million in tax-increment financing must be borrowed by the end of this year. Otherwise, about 70 percent of that cash must be returned to the State of Vermont, according to Weinberger.
CEDO hopes to get consultants for the project by this spring and then secure the necessary permits before borrowing the money. At the Tuesday meeting, city officials urged the council not to delay.
"The timeframe is very short. I don't want to sugarcoat that," said Kirsten Merriman-Shapiro, a senior projects and policy specialist for CEDO. "Every day counts."
The frame project is the latest in a series of Moran redesign proposals that have been considered over the past three decades. But the cost of soil remediation and demolishing the building have previously posed insurmountable barriers.
In 2014, Burlingtonians approved tax-increment financing to redevelop Moran. The cash was meant to fund a project by a group called New Moran, which wanted to create a multiuse facility for the Burlington Farmers Market, events and performances, along with an outdoor ice rink.
The city decided that plan was no longer feasible in 2017, citing the high cost of soil remediation. The project would have cost more than $15 million.
With the latest project proposal, some councilors expressed concerns about whether the city would stay within the allocated budget. In the end, they all wholeheartedly voiced support for the plan.
"I can't think of a project that has garnered as much enthusiasm as this has right out of the gate," Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) said.
Councilor Ali Dieng (D/P-Ward 7) called it a "wonderful project." But he acknowledged it's been a long time coming. "The community needs closure," he added.
There's no guarantee that if the city moves forward with the first phase of the project that it would continue with the supplementary components.
"Where's the money coming from" for additional amenities or enhancements? Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District) asked rhetorically. "I want to be candid with the taxpayers — there is no answer for that."
But, he added, it's worth getting started: "It'd be crazy not to move forward with Phase 1."