A rendering of Phase 1a of the Moran plant redesign
Nearly 35 years after it last belched smoke into the sky, the Moran plant is coming down — most of it, anyway.
City officials will break ground Wednesday afternoon on a “deconstruction” project for the old coal-fired power plant on the Burlington waterfront. The long-awaited redevelopment will remove the outer brick layer of the building and leave the interior steel framework, the centerpiece of a new city park on a waterfront that was once devoted to industry.
Known as the FRAME design, which stands for “Fearless Relook at Moran Electric,” the first phase of the project is expected to take a year to complete, Mayor Miro Weinberger told Seven Days on Tuesday. It’ll “transform what has been up until now an eyesore into an iconic landmark,” he said of the long-vacant building.
“The Moran FRAME concept is unique, it’s authentic to Burlington, and I think it’s quite exciting,” Weinberger said. “This new structure is going to be an enormous piece of public art” that includes public access to the area.
“The framework creates the real potential for those uses to expand and grow over the years,” he added.
The first phase is fairly basic. Construction crews will remove bricks and walls and stabilize the building. They'll fill in the basement, which once let in water from Lake Champlain as part of the power plant’s cooling process. Some of the $6.55 million price tag, which includes $2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and $3.6 million in tax-increment financing, will be used to remove toxic remnants from both the building and the land it sits on.
Phase 1 would enable the city to add additional amenities, such as an ice rink on the property or stairs and observation decks on the building itself. Which add-ons are completed and when depends on further funding, though Weinberger said Tuesday he’s confident that some philanthropic donations could get things moving fairly quickly.
The groundbreaking follows years of starts and stops at the site since the city decommissioned the plant in 1986. Several proposals would have redeveloped the building, but sky-high costs and other impediments ultimately tanked the plans.
A few years ago, Weinberger had pledged to tear down the building if a plan pitched by developers using the moniker New Moran fell through, which it did in 2017.
But removing the structure and remediating the contaminated soil on the site could have cost some $10 million. Before going that route, Weinberger tasked the Community Economic Development Office with considering other reuses. That study led to the FRAME proposal in late 2018, a concept that was well-received by the city council and quickly approved.
Site work has already begun, and construction fencing is up around the building. Wednesday’s ceremony, featuring various speakers and other pageantry, is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Water Works Park, a city green space that opened in June 2019 beside the Moran plant.
Weinberger said the deconstruction is the final piece of a years-long reimagining of what’s known as the northern waterfront, a post-industrial area now home to the Community Sailing Center, the bike path, skate park, a dog park, outdoor exercise equipment and other landscaping that has turned the area into an attraction for tourists and locals alike.
“In a little bit more than five years now, it’s been transformed into part of our outstanding, 21st century lakeshore with a wide variety of uses for the public,” Weinberger said, noting that much of the area was off-limits before 2014.
“We have a number of these longstanding, unresolved projects that go back decades around the city … [The Moran plant] is one of the most significant of those challenging projects that has hung out there. To bring it to resolution, I think, should be confidence-building about where we go as a community.”