Maple Tree Place announces design contest winner

Two local women awarded $1,000 for best entry

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A versatile design that could accommodate everything from farmers’ markets to romantic walks has won Maple Tree Place’s “Make a Green Come True” contest.

Mary Jo Childs of Williston and Judy Goodyear of South Burlington won a $1,000 prize for their plan, which will be used in remaking the one-acre grassy square at the heart of the shopping center. It was among eight contest submissions from around the state.

The design features a central plaza surrounded by sugar maples. Walking paths radiate outward from the plaza to the green’s edge.

An arbor is located on one corner of the green. On the opposite corner, the design situates a second arbor, a stage and a terraced area where spectators can sit. That corner can also accommodate farmers markets and art fairs.

Among the items listed as optional are a pillar-mounted clock, a sundial and a sculpture people can climb on.

The overarching idea was to provide a setting where every square foot of space is useable by people, Childs said. The plan is designed to allow a farmers market to set up shop during the day and couples to take a stroll at night.

“I’ve always been interested in how space affects people,” Childs said. “Basically we wanted to create a space where people of all ages could get together. If you bring people to the space, you bring business to the shopping center.”

Judging was based criteria that included functionality, design value and creativity. Entries were scored by a six-judge panel.

The Childs-Goodyear design was the clear winner, scoring substantially higher than the other entries, said Rachel Carter, who coordinated public relations for the contest and who works for Paul Kaza Associates of South Burlington.

Patrick McLean, one of the judges and Vermont chapter president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said the winning entry was the most complete plan and the best fit for the shopping center.

“I thought they had a good explanation about where they were coming from and what they wanted to do,” he said. “It was not like a spaceship coming in. It just fit.”

Some of the elements are flexible, which will allow the shopping center’s owner some leeway as to how much is spent on the project. But both Childs and Goodyear said the design is likely to cost considerably more than the $75,000 budgeted.

Representatives from Inland US Management LLC, the company that manages Maple Tree Place, have said the budget is flexible. They suggested the winning project could be done in phases, spreading the cost out over several years.

Childs and Goodyear met several years ago through their mutual involvement in a Williston gardening club. Both women had planned to enter the contest when Goodyear e-mailed Childs and suggested they work together.

“We brought our files and compared notes,” Childs said. “Then we realized our ideas dovetailed.”

Childs and Goodyear toiled nearly full-time for two weeks on the design, brainstorming ideas and drawing sketches. Goodyear said they were “doodling for a couple of days” until a clear plan began to emerge.

Childs owns MJ Childs Landscape Design. She has designed the playground at Williston Central School and a project at Vermont Respite House in Williston. Goodyear owns a landscaping business called A Very Goodyear.

Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi sold Maple Tree Place for $102.3 million last year to The Inland Group of Companies in Illinois. The retail center includes a mix of big-box stores and smaller shops as well as office space.

Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis had first proposed the contest to Starwood Ceruzzi, which was unenthusiastic about the idea. Inland Group representatives, however, thought it was a good way to make a connection with the community.

The design must gain approval from the town and the state, and so is subject to change. Inland officials hope to start work on the project this spring.

The contest has significance beyond finding a functional design for the green. Town officials have long envisioned Maple Tree Place as Williston’s downtown. They hope an improved green will help the shopping center coalesce into a community gathering place.

Childs said she had always thought it was a shame that the space – a largely featureless grassy square – wasn’t better employed for that purpose.

“I’d always been bothered that the original developer left a blank slate,” Childs said. “When they announced the contest, I decided I’d better put up or shut up.”