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March 08, 2010

Maritime Museum Eyed as Moran Plant Tenant

Local-moran_0 The redevelopment of the Moran Plant will be the main item for debate at tonight's Burlington City Council, including a request to sign a deal allowing the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to become the project's crucial third tenant.

Last fall, the Green Mountain Children's Museum pulled out of the project, leaving only two possible anchor tenants — Ice Factor, a Scottish-based company that wants to create an indoor, family adventure center, and the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center. The city then sought, and received, proposals from nonprofit groups interested in occupying up to 7000 square feet of ground floor space in the Moran Center at Waterfront Park redevelopment project.

Burlington College, Burlington City Arts, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum offered proposals. Here's a description of the Maritime Museum's proposal:

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum: Proposes to use 7000 square feet to create a new LCMM branch called the "Shipwreck Center," which will include interactive museum exhibits and theater space inside the building, focusing on the shipwrecks of Lake Champlain. The exhibits would include recovered artifacts, full sized replica vessels and other objects that tell the story of the lake's military, commercial and cultural history. LCMM also proposes to relocate to Moran the activities currently housed at Perkins Pier, including porting the schooner Lois McClure, and the Burlington Community and Youth Rowing project.

In November, the Burlington City Council asked the Parks, Arts and Culture Committee, chaired by Karen Paul (I-Ward 6), to develop a review process. That process included input from the Moran Advisory Group, every Neighborhood Planning Assembly, the Parks Commission, the Planning Commission and the Burlington Business Association's Waterfront Action Group, as well as the public.

At Monday night's council meeting, councilors will also be asked to extend the city's contract with David White's firm, White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors. White has been acting as a consultant to the project. His contract with the city would be increased to $143,500, and extended through May 31.

The city is not asking to pay more money to White at this time, said Community and Economic Development Office Director Larry Kupferman, in a letter to the council. It's expected that White would be paid later out of new money secured from loans and grants.

"White + Burke principal, David G. White, has been providing the city with invaluable assistance in negotiating with the tenants and structuring the redevelopment deal," wrote Kupferman. "However, White + Burke has reached the maximum allowable amount of the contract allowed by the Board of Finance in September 2009."

The contract also includes the cost of several other subcontractors, including one tax-credits consultant and a permit expert, said Kupferman.

The city has secured or identified funding from a variety of sources that it claims will not impact local taxpayers.

Additionally, each of the private partners are on the hook to raise money to cover the costs of their own construction within Moran, and overall operations. Those development and funding agreements have yet to be signed with the city but are in the works.

The agreements were largely put on hold last fall when the children's museum pulled out of the project. In a memo to the council, White said he expects development agreement negotiations to begin anew if the council agrees to move ahead with the Maritime Museum.

The Moran Plant redevelopment project has been in the works for years, with voters agreeing to the latest iteration in 2008.

In a memo to the council, White said the project remains on target to cost about $10.3 million, and has recently secured a significant amount of funding to redevelop the northern end of the city's waterfront.

According to a report from White and CEDO, the city has secured a $3.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant through Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). This will help extend Lake Street, realign the bike path and build more parking lots. 

The TIGER grant will supplant money the city had planned to raise through a special tax-increment financing effort. Instead, that TIF money will be used toward other waterfront-related projects designed to strengthen the Moran project, White said. He said a full proposal on how to use the TIF money will be brought to the council in the near future.

Additional tax credits and grants are being investigated and, if secured, could leverage an additional $5 million in funding toward the project.

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