My Turn: Moran plant not best use of money
By Maurice Mahoney
February 29, 2008
As the Free Press pointed out ("Moran plant deserves discussion," Feb. 6), Burlington voters will get a clear choice on the Moran plant on March 4.
The new Community and Economic Development Office proposal backed by Mayor Kiss calls for a $21 million expenditure with a very fuzzy financial plan. The ballot item to remove the Moran plant was never considered by City Hall, even though CEDO's own voter survey showed that 86 percent favored a waterfront park and 55 percent favored removal of Moran. The ballot item for Smart Demolition had to be petitioned by dedicated volunteers who wanted the public to have a choice.
It seems like only yesterday that about two-thirds of Burlington voters said "No" to the YMCA/Moran proposal. CEDO and the mayor must have missed that message. Now we have another, much more expensive plan and softer sell propaganda, which is deliberately meager on the financial package. Voters will be bombarded with colorful, cute and expensive advertising to get you to vote yes. You will not get the important details that you need.
The ballot item does not even mention the $21 million cost. Did City Hall think that people wouldn't care about the cost? How many people know that the "tax benefits" that have been touted are not going to increase available funds for fire equipment or sidewalks the rest of the city, but the money goes into a Tax Incremental Finance District for the project? The revenue from Moran goes back into Moran. How many people know that the tenants get a five-year deferral of rent? How many people know that a two-level parking garage is part of the plan? The pictures on the ads won't show that structure. How much money has CEDO already spent in staff hours and hard dollars on this latest scheme?
At this point, there is no fallback plan for city taxpayers. If the Ice Factor could not meet its financial obligation and had to leave, Burlington would be left with the empty Ice Factor space. That is a gamble we cannot afford.
The Sailing Center is a wonderful organization that provides great activities and needs to be on the waterfront. They could utilize a much more modest building shared with Parks and Recreation which would have summer and winter activities.
The children's museum is an attractive idea. In the early 1990s, when I was on the City Council Waterfront Committee, we worked hard to try to get a children's museum in the Moran plant, but the funding fell through. Since then we are fortunate to have the ECHO Center, which has increasingly had to rent space for special events to help its revenues. Another children's museum on the waterfront seems like a duplication of functions very close to each other.
Many parents are wondering why a new children's play space couldn't be closer to downtown or the Old North End so more Burlington residents could enjoy it with easy access. Indeed, all of the money and attention and energy given to the Moran plant could be redirected toward our children's library and our wonderful school programs, especially after school activities. The same attention could be given to the Armory Project in the New North End, which is facing a large private fundraising effort to reach completion.
We don't need a $21 million super project to fix the bike path near Moran. That should not have been allowed to deteriorate, but money is tight.
We are facing huge infrastructure needs like improved stormwater separation, basic maintenance of public buildings, and of course, the crisis in our Employee Retirement Fund. Please find out as much as you can on this project. I think that your conclusion will be to vote no on the $21 million Moran plan.
Maurice Mahoney of Burlington is a member of Citizens for Waterfront Park.
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