History and Past Ideas


On the way to becoming the third largest lumber port in the United States, Burlington’s waterfront evolved from a long crescent sand shoreline into a commercial waterfront. Starting in the mid-1800’s, thousands of yards of stone and fill were placed in the lake, creating a progressively larger land area for lumber processing, wharfing, and manufacturing. 

Over time, the waterfront transitioned from a lumber port into a rail yard, and eventually a bulk petroleum facility. Until the early 1990’s, hundreds of thousands of gallons of petroleum products were delivered each year to the waterfront by barge and train, and the vast majority of these prime waterfront lands were rendered inaccessible to the public. By the 1950’s, gasoline, JP-4 jet fuel, and heating oil were being stored on the waterfront, with barges, trains and trucks frequenting the facilities.

The coal-fired Moran Plant went on line in 1954, producing electricity until decommissioning in 1986. Since that date, the majority of the building has remained vacant, with the exception of the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center’s occupation of a relatively small area.

Due to its significant structural capacity, historical interest, and high costs of demolition, the Moran had been slated for redevelopment, with the support of Burlington voters and City Council.

In the context of recent history, the Moran Plant can be viewed as the last remnant of a waterfront that has been forever transformed. Over the past twenty years, citizens have demonstrated strong support for the public use of the waterfront, resulting in a dramatic transformation of the area into a major recreation and cultural resource.  Since the 1980’s, over 60 acres of waterfront land has been acquired by the City, all bulk petroleum tanks removed, buildings and foundations demolished, and a 40-acre “Urban Reserve” created for “future generations” to decide on its use.

The Community Boathouse, Waterfront Park and Promenade, new Coast Guard building, and ECHO Center have been constructed, harbor breakwater repaired, and historic lighthouse replicas installed – all achieved with the City’s leadership.  Private sector development west of Lake Street include condominiums and mixed-use development that are either built, under construction, or in pre-development.


Since the transfer of the Moran Plant from Burlington Electric to the City Council, many proposals have been crafted for adaptive re-use for public benefit.  A Renaissance Center for Science and the Arts was proposed, but lacked support and fundraising capacity.  The ECHO Center considered and rejected the Moran site.  A proposal to relocate the Discovery Children’s Museum to Moran failed to come to fruition.

Burlington Parks and Recreation considered a recreation center on the waterfront north of Moran, but concluded that the cost of construction and the regular subsidies required to operate such a facility were beyond the means of the City.

The idea of a baseball stadium was advanced, but it became clear that a stadium did not fit on the site.  A Request for Letters of Interest in 1993 yielded several proposals, all with inadequate funding or programming plans.  The City issued a second request for proposals in 1995, and a proposal by UVM’s Fleming Museum was selected.  After several years of planning, the Fleming chose to not move forward, turning their energy to further development on UVM’s main campus.  The reasons for the failure of these past proposals vary:  it can be argued that they have been either too extravagant, costly or unrealistic in terms of site conditions, design and engineering, development costs and parking, and/or involved unrealistic operating income projections.  In the case of the YMCA/LCCSC proposal, a variety of factors could be cited for the voter’s rejection.