Shopping center to host outdoor concerts

Series features local musicians

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

An outdoor concert series that will entertain residents and perhaps boost business begins Thursday, June 21 at Maple Tree Place.

“Groovin’ on the Green” will feature weekly performances on the grassy square inside the shopping center. The concerts will be held each Thursday from 6-8 p.m. through Aug. 2.

Musical acts will cover a variety of genres, including blues, jazz and country. At least two of the groups, blues-rockers Nobby Reed Project and R&B players Starline Rhythm Boys, enjoy local name recognition. Williston resident Stephanie Keesler, a singer-songwriter, will be featured on July 5.

The concerts come as Maple Tree Place’s owner, Illinois-based Inland Group, gets ready to undertake improvements at the green. Plans for the grassy but featureless one-acre square include a band shell and landscaping.

Rich Golder, property manager for Maple Tree Place, said Inland decided not to wait until the project was completed before hosting events. “We want people to use and enjoy the green,” he said.

Kevin Finnegan, the town’s recreation director, said he occasionally hears from musicians looking for a venue in Williston. But he simply doesn’t have the budget to pay for musical talent.

“I think it’s great,” Finnegan said. “Inland certainly has the means to put on a bigger show than the town does.”

Williston does host an annual concert series by the Town Band. Those concerts will take place as usual this summer, with performances each Wednesday at 7 p.m. starting July 3. Concerts are held on the green next to the library in Williston Village.

Golder said the Maple Tree Place concerts are intended primarily as a gift to the community. But he acknowledged that the crowds they attract may also benefit merchants.

“Any time you bring more people to the shopping center, it can be seen as a possible business opportunity – and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Nick Charboneau, co-owner of Mexicali restaurant, said the impact on his business remains to be seen. The eatery is located on the square surrounding the green.

“We’re excited about it, but we are curious to see how much of an effect it will have,” Charboneau said.

He said at one point the shopping center considered holding the concerts on the pedestrian arcade right next to Mexicali’s patio. With the venue a little farther away, Charboneau said, “I think it won’t have a huge impact on us.”

Pam Carter, co-owner of Keeping Good Company, a home decor outlet, said she welcomes anything that will draw more people to Maple Tree Place. The business, tucked away on the pedestrian arcade, has poor visibility due to its location.

“We’re still struggling with getting people to know that we’re here,” Carter said. “We often feel like we are behind a brick wall.”

Keeping Good Company will extend its hours on concert days in hopes of luring costumers, Carter said. The business usually closes at 6 p.m. on Thursdays; it will now stay open until 8 p.m.

Golder expects work to begin on the green when the concert series ends. Inland held a contest last year seeking designs for the project. Williston resident Mary Jo Childs and Judy Goodyear from South Burlington submitted the winning entry.

Their plan was later altered by Inland to free up space for picnicking and playing. It still includes the band shell and some landscaping from the original plan, but eliminates the terraced seating Childs and Goodyear suggested.

The contest rules said the green improvement project could cost no more than $75,000. Childs said at the time her design would likely cost more. She was right: Golder said the price tag has ballooned to about $300,000.

For this summer’s concerts, a portable stage will be erected. Concert-goers are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs.