Reclaiming The Moran Plant
During its first three decades, the coal-fired Moran Power Plant belched smoky pollution into the skies over Burlington’s Old North End. For the next thirty years, that same plant—decommissioned in 1986—sat idle, a hulking sentinel at the edge of the Queen City’s waterfront. Now, a group of creative optimists are reimagining the plant’s next chapter; they’re out to transform the abandoned plant into a community space that will fuel a different kind of energy: people power.
The price tag is substantial—nearly $34 million, of which a third will need to come from philanthropic donors. But the payoff will be monumental. The new Moran will include a community center, a vibrant marketplace, and a coworking space devoted to innovation, cultural entrepreneurship and shared nonprofit collaboration. A rooftop deck and garden, as well as an observation tower, will look out over Burlington’s waterfront. In a 180-degree turn-about from its history as a coal-fueled generating station, the plant will be energy net-zero—
a goal achievable by adding a thick insulating envelope and using a novel, renewable heating and cooling system fueled by the waters of Lake Champlain.
Were this building to come down, it would be a huge loss for the community,” explains Charlie Tipper, one of the co-founders of the nonprofit calling itself “New Moran.” “This is an act of stepping up and stewarding this incredible resource.
Charlie Tipper, Tad Cooke, Ryan Miller, Erick Crockenberg, Hillary Hess, Alex Crothers
Photo Credit: MONIKA RIVARD
The seven-story brick building is today a remnant of Burlington’s industrial past; graffiti covers much of the interior space. It’s a cityscape more akin to an inspired skate park or the ultimate action movie fight scene. For decades, Burlington leaders have mulled over plans for turning the eyesore into the Queen City’s crown jewel. Few gained any traction, and when Burlington residents voted last year on tax increment financing for the current plan, they faced a clear choice: redevelop, or, at long last, break out the wrecking ball.
It’s a piece of our history that, if we cover it up or if we get rid of it, it’s gone forever and that’s that,” says New Moran co-founder Tad Cooke. “With this building we have a chance to create a place that means something to people, that Burlington and that Vermont is proud of, and we have a chance to do it in a way that preserves
the character and tells the story.
Cooke and his friend, Erick Crockenberg, started daydreaming about the Moran Plant as undergrads just a few years ago at the University of Vermont. A few emails later, they had the ear of Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger. “We pursued the city relentlessly,” recalls Cooke, who with a somewhat sheepish smile remembers thinking, “How hard could it really be to make this thing happen?”
Three years and countless community meetings later, the New Moran team knows now what a heavy lift they face. (That type of audacity is something we revere and aspire towards.) And yet, the vision of a waterfront gathering space, a place for community adventures and creativity—a hub that showcases the best of Burlington, and of Vermont—buoys them as they drum up an initial $2.7 million in fundraising.
We need to have spaces like Moran that bring together culture and commerce and community in one space, that are vibrant and dynamic,” says Cooke. “We have one shot to take this opportunity for the public, for Burlington, and for Vermont. It’s really our generation’s legacy on the waterfront.