Maple Tree Place Green renovation launched

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

Officials, artists, and about 30 members of the public gathered last Wednesday in Maple Tree Place to launch the renovation of the 53,000 square foot green in the middle of the retail and office complex.

On a stage in the green, surrounded by orange construction fencing, various public figures offered remarks in honor of the commencement of this project. Behind the fencing were mounds of dirt and holes in the ground, the beginnings of the two-phase renovation project.

The first phase, targeted for a November 2007 completion, includes the creation of two diagonal walkways that intersect at a central square (which will have park benches and a mounting place for a Christmas tree), the installation of new lighting and flagpoles, and the foundation for a band shell. The second phase, which will feature the construction of the band shell as well as various landscaping measures, aims to be done in time for next summer’s Groovin’ on the Green outdoor concert series.

The design was submitted by Judy Goodyear and Williston resident Mary Jo Childs, who won the 2006 Maple Tree Place-sponsored landscape design contest.

“Last February, we saw footprints of people who had cut across the green,” Goodyear said. “This inspired us to incorporate paths into our design. But since the green isn’t quite square, we needed a central square to create better angles. We worked night and day for three weeks to address the many questions of this project, and it paid off. It was a real collaborative effort, both beautiful and utilitarian – the result of two different ways of looking at design.”

By the time it is finished, the process of revamping the green will have taken more than two years. Since the design was approved in February 2006, the company had to draw up a budget and gain various zoning approvals.

“We had some design issues with the gazebo that required tweaking,” said Niall Byrne, senior vice president of Inland Western Retail Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc., the owner of Maple Tree Place. “The project is really a transformation of the green, so it’s a natural process that requires extra time. But we’re excited. I think it’s a great place, and every time I come up here, I get a strong sense of community, which is the way it’s meant to be.”

Last week’s celebration was introduced by a tune from Don “The Junkman” Knaack, a Vermont musician who has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” Knaack plays percussion music on junk and recycled materials.

“He’s making beautiful music out of throwaway junk,” said Byrne. “And I think that makes the point here. We’re thrilled to have this begin.”

Officials had high hopes for the green, which they said they hoped would serve as a gathering place and an economic stimulator.

“Part of our job is to position Vermont as the best place to work and play,” said Tom Torti, President of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We talk most about forming a sense of place. Surrounded by beautiful brick, in this quiet, contemplative place, this green will help to create that unique sense of ‘where you are.’ And it will spur economic development, which we all need.”

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire also weighed in at the celebration.

“This will serve as a meeting place for the community, and the benefits will be seen by the businesses of Maple Tree Place as well,” McGuire said.

The speakers then gathered beside the stage as they each directed a ceremonial shovelful of dirt onto the base of a maple tree. The green will have several unique features that capture the developers’ environmentally minded attitude as well as the community focus. In the southwest corner, diagonally opposite from the band shell, there will be a place where it will be possible to purchase and install a memorial brick for a loved one.

In addition, Martin Smith’s creation, Obelisk Earth, will stand in the green. The piece, which is made out of computer keyboards, e-waste computer parts, and fast food children’s toys, is Smith’s attempt to remind of the dangers of technological waste.

“This whole thing is made out of oil, and promotional snippets pretending to be toys,” Smith said. “Technology has a dual role – it can help us, but in the process it produces waste materials, some of them toxic. This piece highlights the waste produced by technology, as well as puts the Earth back on a pedestal where it should be.”