The Moran Redevelopment Project is down to two tenants. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has withdrawn from the project citing financial concerns.
In a statement released on Monday, Art Cohn, director of the museum said, "The Maritime Museum has significant concerns about our ability to raise sufficient funds to participate in the project and the long-term financially sustainability of a future Moran maritime museum site."
The museum is the second tenant to withdraw from the $21 million project to revitalize the defunct power plant on Burlington's waterfront. Last year, the children's museum also pulled out. Burlington's Mayor Bob Kiss says these departures are due to the non-profits' financial capacity and not the project itself.
"The museum in their own statement just said they were concerned about their own ability to provide the funding on their part to sustain a Maritime Museum presence over the long haul," said Mayor Bob Kiss, P-Burlington.
But some city councilors say that a second tenant departure, in such a short time, is an indicator of an economic climate that may make it difficult for the city to find a tenant in the future. City councilor Kurt Wright worries the project may become the taxpayers' problem.
"We need to make sure that this project is really on sound footing because of what's gone on here in Burlington with Burlington Telecom," said Wright, R-Burlington city council, "We can't take any chances that put the taxpayers at risk."
The city announced that a $3 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Transportation Department will free up tax-increment financing dollars that will now be used toward the Moran project.
"That's an absolute game changer for this project," said David White, the project's financial advisor, "It took the project from one that was very dependent on the tenants in the financing, to one that no longer requires any specific tenants to participate in this project."
"With this financial structure we have available to us I think we're pretty secure in moving forward," said Larry Kupferman of Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office.
The other two tenants, a Scottish ice climbing company and the Lake Champlain Sailing Center, say they remain committed to the project.
"The sailing center has been at the Moran for the last 16 years," said Kate Neubauer, executive director of the sailing center, "It's our home and with the type of programming that we do we really can't be anywhere else."
Councilor Wright says he remains concerned that the city hasn't made the tenants' financials available. But the city says under its new finance structure for the project, the tenants' contributions are irrelevant. The city announced it will be taking its time to find a third, financially strong company who will blend with the other tenants. Construction on the project is set to begin next summer.
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