Monday, February 25, 2008



This is not good news for CEDO, either, which makes a big deal about supporting home-grown, small businesses in our city. The recent closing of local businesses - particularly on Church Street and downtown, I'll leave for another day's post. People are disheartened by the growth and taking-over of big-box national conglomerate stores in our area. Don't let the Mayor and his minions at CEDO have their way, Burlington really doesn't need a big box recreation and entertainment centre right on the Waterfront!

Petra Cliffs, a respected Ward 5 Burlington business, has a press release urging voters in Burlington to vote NO on the Mayor's plan --

The Sad Truth About the Moran Plant
Why Petra Cliffs is no longer involved

Burlington, VT - March 4th is "Town Meeting" day here in Vermont. We'll finally get to express our opinions in regards to the race for President as well as on many other issues facing our great state. This particular "Town Meeting" day will be especially interesting for me. As you all know, I am the owner of Petra Cliffs and for going on 8 years now we have served the greater Burlington area the best way we know how. This year, Burlington residents are being asked to vote for the restoration of the Moran Plant on the beautiful Burlington Waterfront. The proposal that you are being asked to approve is, at first blush, one of great interest to many people: indoor ice-climbing, a children's museum, a restaurant, skating rink etc...why would a facility like the ever be a bad thing? I'll explain.

Last winter I was approached by Jamie Smith, owner of the Ice Factor and Chris Bacon, the owner of Northern Lights. Some would say that Jamie is the mastermind behind this proposal for the Moran. We sat in Roque's and had a nice lunch. During that first meeting I was told that of the intention to rebuild the Moran Plant and that the vision of that building was to build the "First Indoor Ice Climbing facility in the United States." I was told that the Burlington area is "simply not big enough for two climbing gyms" and that Petra Cliffs should consider joining in the development of the Moran Plant...or I'd "just be put out of business". I thought about the conversation for a couple days and decided that perhaps it was better to work collaboratively to create one really great facility that all of Vermont would be proud of. Over the coming months I sat in on MANY meetings that addressed quite a number of issues surrounding the development idea.

One issue that pressed us was determining what sort of partnership would be created between Petra Cliffs. Northern Lights and Ice Factor. Ultimately this conversation would ruin the opportunity for us to partner. First, Chris and Northern Lights pulled out of the deal for reasons having to do with money and who exactly was to contribute what. I held on for a while longer while we tried to sort out the relationship. Many ideas where shared but three floated to the surface, each ended with idea that Petra Cliffs would stay open until the day before opening day of the Moran Plant and then all of our members, clients, teams, clinics; really everything we do, would decant to the Moran and become the basis of Ice Factor's clientele. The proposed value of Petra Cliffs and the method for determining that value changed greatly over about 3 months. The most popular suggestions made by Ice Factor to determine value were:

1) shares in Ice Factor would be based on "turnover"
2) shares were to be based on an average of 5 years profit
3) shares would be based on annual sales

It was ultimately this lack of decision that made me decide that I could not in good faith support this project any further. I was in California working in October when it was announced, without absolute confirmation from me, that Petra Cliffs and Ice Factor would be working on a "join venture" to develop the Moran Plant. When I got the call from a friend of mine informing me of the announcement a wave a reality came rushing over me. I realized that I would never have say in what happened to the business. Jamie, and his colleague Phil had total control and it is my opinion that asking to have Petra Cliffs involved was more of a way to hamstring the competition than to actually have competitions. You know, keep your friends close and your enemies closer type of thing.

Since day 1 of my conversations with Jamie, I have asked over and over again "How exactly are we going to pay for this?" and the answer was always the same: "We'll charge a premium price for our services." I have owned Petra Cliffs for 3 years now and I know first hand the amount of money people are willing to spend rock climbing, ski mountaineering, ice climbing or even the possibility of indoor ice-climbing is not worth $200 for two hours of lessons...nor is $25 a fair value for a day pass. College kids, family and day visitors, at least those that live locally can not afford those rates. Jamie's plan is to take advantage of the "city money" and capitalize on this traveling wealth. It seems to me that no matter how many tourists we have visiting Burlington, no matter how much money they are willing to spend at the Ice Factor, we need to take care of our community, our kids, and our local climbing community first. Another question I have is about no time did it ever come up that my staff, all of them would be placed in the Ice a matter of fact, I was told on many occasions that Jamie intended to bring some of his guides and instructors across from Scotland to teach. I assume that to mean he felt my staff are not qualified to work in such an establisment.

I think the idea of the Ice Factor is really neat...I think it will fit perfectly in Vegas...maybe even in Boston or New York but not Burlington. As a small business owner in such an "unfriendly to business" state I personally struggle with the idea that City Hall would throw so much money at a project that is foreign funded, predominately foreign owned at the expense of an established locally owned, family oriented business such as Petra Cliffs. I enocourage you to make your own decisions, research the project and on March 4th, GET OUT THERE AND VOTE. This vote does not guarantee that the the project will happen but it does give the Ice Factor a seat at the table and the means to waste more of the our time wonding how long Petra Cliffs will remain open for business once the doors to the Moran Plant swing open. This vote gives the city permission to further investigate the project, spend more money on the project and, while perhaps unintentional, slowly erode the stablity of my business. I live in Williston so I don't even get a vote, but if I did you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd vote NO on the Moran Plant question and I'd be encouraging everyone I know to do the same. I'm not asking Jamie to abandon his idea, I'm not asking him to not build a name for Ice Factor here in the States...I'm just aksing you to not allow it to happen in Burlington.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Mike Anderson
Petra Cliffs Climbing Center
(802) 657-3872


  1. Mike -
    Thanks for writing such a clear, compassionate, and grounded counter to the Moran Plant Proposal. Petra Cliffs has an amazing reputation with Burlington. In a capitalist Society, competition is what makes it go 'round...please don't close!

    Jay -
    thanks for including Mike's piece on your blog.



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