Hannaford developer Ernie Pomerleau is commissioning the Milton Artists’ Guild to design an art piece for his prime Route 7 shopping plaza, he confirmed last week.

Along with new retail shops, the Milton Square Shopping Center includes a small urban park, sited just north of Minor Funeral Home.

Pomerleau has done these community art ventures before, notably on Shelburne Road in Burlington near his Price Chopper plaza: In 1999, Winooski artist Leslie Fry fashioned a set of concrete, sphinxlike creatures to decorate the urban park at the corner with Home Avenue.

Now Pomerleau is leaving Milton’s sculpture to the Artists’ Guild, a nonprofit collective of 45 artists with a mission to “stimulate appreciation of the visual arts in Milton,” according to its website. Only four are sculptors, Guild President Gisela Alpert said.

Alpert received about seven submissions that she and Guild member Amy Cook will present to Pomerleau at a meeting at the site on Wednesday. Pomerleau said the partnership is very preliminary, so a final budget hasn’t been discussed. He did say he plans to pay for the piece “within reason.”

“That’s why we wanted to meet with them to make sure I didn’t get a $1 million proposal,” he said, laughing.

The venture will be the Guild’s first public art installation, though its artists’ works have been featured at businesses in Milton and beyond.

The Artists’ Guild first approached Pomerleau’s camp in May 2011 with a greater vision to improve Route 7 aesthetics. Members encouraged Pomerleau’s staff to attract a fine dining restaurant with outdoor seating and lighting to the new commercial spaces to be built alongside a larger grocery store, Alpert said.

Alpert saw the park as the best opportunity for the Guild to get involved.

“When we heard that, we thought, ‘What a better group than us?’” she said.

Pomerleau agreed. Asked why he didn’t solicit opinions from the greater public, Pomerleau was matter-of-fact: “Very simple: Because we were looking for artisans,” he said.

“It’s a centerpiece for the complex, and it’s one that will be very visible from the road, so we wanted to go the extra distance with it,” Pomerleau continued. “Besides, that kind of thing is fun.”

In a second interview last week, Alpert was adamant that discussions just started and that Pomerleau makes the ultimate decision, Alpert said.

“Had he wanted to throw it out there for all the residents in Milton to come up with something, he would have chosen to do so,” she said, later adding, “We should applaud his thinking in trying to make this as appealing as possible.”

Given the few sculptors in the Guild – and the general requirements that the statue be made of a sturdy material – Alpert said the group might outsource the labor to another local artist. Alpert and Pomerleau agreed that no matter who designs the piece, some will love it, and some will hate it. That’s the case with Pomerleau’s Burlington park: He said he gets letters that both admire the design and call it satanic.

As for Milton’s, “I don’t want it to get too weird,” Pomerleau said. “Beauty is the eye of the beholder, and I want to make sure that most people consider what we’re going to do there [to be] nice.”

Pomerleau said the design – “a signature piece from Milton” – should also include benches and landscaping. He plans to work with the Milton Garden Club on the latter.

“If I’m going to spend a little bit of money, I’d want to do it locally,” he said.
Alpert is excited about the project and thinks it will help create a center of town, which she said Milton lacks.

“That whole area, there’s still so much room left to grow,” she said.