Shopping center up for sale?

Maple Tree Place draws national firm’s interest

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

One of the nation’s largest owners of shopping centers has made inquiries indicating it may buy Maple Tree Place.

Representatives from Inland Real Estate Group, based in Oak Brook, Ill., have asked for paperwork certifying that Maple Tree Place meets zoning requirements, said Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis. Inspectors have also visited buildings at the development, according to Maple Tree Place’s property manager.

“It appears (Inland Real Estate Group) is doing due diligence,” Nellis said.

Starwood Ceruzzi, a Connecticut-based real estate company, currently owns the mixed-use development.

Representatives from both companies would neither confirm nor deny that a sale is pending.

Rick Fox, a spokesman for Inland Real Estate Group, said Securities and Exchange Commission rules prevent the publicly traded company from disclosing any advance information about a potential purchase.

“SEC guidelines say we can’t talk about it,” Fox said. “I can’t even confirm that we are considering it.”

Ed Lingel, who manages Maple Tree Place and five other developments for Starwood Ceruzzi, said that there have been some “inspectors roaming around the property.” But he said he could not confirm that Starwood Ceruzzi was selling the property or what company the inspectors represented.

“I’ve heard the same rumors as you,” Lingel said. “But I haven’t been told squat by my people.”

Cynthia Ellis, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Starwood Ceruzzi, did not return a phone call to her office at the company’s Fairfield, Conn. headquarters.

If Inland Group buys Maple Tree Place, it would mark the first change in ownership since Starwood Ceruzzi purchased what was then an open field from Pyramid Co. in the 1990s. Over the past few years Maple Tree Place has grown into one of Vermont’s largest commercial developments. It now includes national retailers such as Best Buy and Staples, tens of thousands of square feet of office space and a 50-unit affordable housing complex.

The 71-acre project has an accessed value of $36,729,800, according to the Williston Town Clerk’s Office.

Inland Real Estate Group has more than $10 billion in assets and manages more than 95 million square feet of commercial space, according to the company’s Web site. The trade publication Shopping Centers Today ranked Inland as the fifth-largest owner and operator of shopping centers in the U.S.

Starwood Ceruzzi is also a big player in commercial real estate. Its parent company and affiliates have a combined portfolio valued at more than $6 billion, according to the company’s Web site.

It is unclear how serious Inland Group is about buying the property. Lingel pointed out that real estate companies sometimes look at many properties before making a purchase, much like an individual shopping for a home.

Starwood Ceruzzi and the town of Williston have had ongoing discussions over the past several months regarding Maple Tree Place’s conditions of approval. The town has expressed concerns that the development has failed to satisfy several of the conditions, which pertain to traffic improvements, landscaping and other aspects of the project.

Nellis said the town’s requirements would still apply if the development were sold. “Any new buyer would still have a legal obligation to meet the conditions of approval,” he said.