Burlington officials past and present celebrated on Wednesday the groundbreaking of a project that they hope will turn the decrepit Moran Plant into a waterfront tourist attraction.
“For 30 years, the Burlington community has been dreaming and imagining great uses of this unique ... structure,” Mayor Miro Weinberger told an assembled crowd of dozens at Water Works Park, which adjoins the Moran property. “Today, we have found a way to achieve many of the city’s long-held goals for this site.”
Crews have already begun stripping the five-story building’s interior and were busy in the background during Wednesday’s event. Workers will gradually strip the entire brick-encased building, leaving just the steel framework standing amid what will eventually be a city park.
The ceremony included no actual groundbreaking, though gleaming shovels leaned against a nearby chainlink fence surrounding the old coal-fired power plant. Instead, the city gave attendees old bricks from the building, adorned with a label designed by Burlington City Arts commemorating the event.
Before the property is reopened to the public, construction crews must remove toxic remnants from both the building and the soil surrounding it, a nasty reminder of the northern waterfront’s industrial past. Former mayor Peter Clavelle recalled how the area was a “wasteland” when he first started working with the city 40 years ago.
“Every undesirable use you could imagine was on this waterfront,” he recalled. “Junkyards, generating plants that spewed ashes into the neighborhood, abandoned rail tracks, sewage treatment facilities, ugly, rusting oil tanks — 83 at one time, up and down the waterfront. Nobody came here; there was no reason to.”
The Moran Plant was decommissioned in 1986, but subsequent plans for the site never came to fruition. Most recently, a group dubbed New Moran formed in 2013 to try to redevelop the building. Burlington residents voted in 2014 to ensure that tax-increment dollars could finance the project.
Among those on the New Moran team was artist Katharine Monstream, who spoke on Wednesday. She recalled a 2016 gallery opening she held inside the plant. The 500 people who attended wore hard hats as they perused her artwork and got a look inside the decrepit building she hoped to reanimate.
The proposal fell apart in 2017. The city's Community Economic Development Office pitched the FRAME design, which stands for Fearless Relook at Moran Electric, in late 2018, and it quickly earned city council approval. The project is expected to cost $6.55 million.
Despite her disappointment that the redevelopment plans never came through, Monstream lauded the FRAME concept.
“We all take great satisfaction knowing the structure will stand," she said. "It’s so gratifying knowing the old coal-burning plant that kept the lights on in our little city will remain accessible to visitors and Burlingtonians alike.”
Construction is expected to last at least through next summer, Weinberger said. But to those assembled on Wednesday, the result will be worth the wait.
“We’ve come a long way as a community,” Clavelle said. “We now have a waterfront that we can use and enjoy, and you don’t need a pocketful of money to do it … It wasn’t easy to get where we are today.”