SOUTH PORTLAND – From his work space, Bill Rice has a clear view of the changes that have recently provided a facelift for Knightville.
Cobblestones accent the newly widened sidewalks. Trees and benches dot the street. High-efficiency streetlights with old-fashioned flair illuminate the neighborhood’s main drag.
“I think it looks great. We’re real happy about it. We got our way,” said Rice, an employee at Higgins Carpet One on Ocean Street.
By getting “our way,” Rice means the angled parking prized by neighborhood businesses and patrons. A plan to replace diagonal parking spaces with parallel parking sparked objections, and the city came up with a compromise to preserve angled parking in the area.
The aesthetic improvements grew out of a larger city effort to separate sewer and stormwater drainage pipes, a change to reduce the amount of sewage that flows into the ocean after rains.
The Portland Water District and Unitil replaced water and natural gas lines in concert with the sewer project so the roads would not have to be torn up again.
The project didn’t start out with beautification as the primary goal, but it provided the opportunity to create a more welcoming feel for the neighborhood, according to City Manager James Gailey.
“When we had that blank canvas, it was time to redesign a better streetscape,” he said.
The total cost of the project was $3.6 million, with $600,000 provided by the Portland Water District. The city used a number of funding sources for its share of the project, which Gailey said required neither bonding nor a higher tax rate.
Construction lasted for months. City employees went though their project punch list last week as workers replaced cobblestones in the roundabout.
Business owners were pleased with the results and glad that the noisy, dusty construction work was behind them.
Alan Cardinal, who took over Smaha’s Legion Square Market in August, estimates that the business lost many thousands of dollars during the construction.
“It had an effect on people getting to the store. It was lower customer counts and people who became so frustrated they chose not to maneuver around that,” he said.
Cardinal said while he doesn’t think the business can make up the loss, customers are returning.
Thanksgiving provided an opportunity for customers to see the situation had improved — and that diagonal parking was still available in front of store, he said.
The compromise to retain angled parking resulted in Ocean Street turning into a northbound one-way zone between the roundabout and E Street.
Diagonal parking was reconfigured on the west side of the street and parallel parking became available on the east side.
On a recent afternoon, one driver honked at another going the wrong direction in the one-way area. Both cars were driving slowly and they were not in danger of crashing into each other.
Brian Allen, owner of The Lamp Repair Shop, said the construction was inconvenient — particularly during the hot weather when the shop propped its door open because of the building’s lack of air conditioning.
“At least they didn’t have to blast,” he said.
Now Allen is looking forward to seeing whether the new sidewalks, widened to accommodate wheelchairs, will also be able to handle snow plowing.
It wasn’t possible before, he said, due to the narrowness of the sidewalks and the placement of trees.
Melissa Coriaty, the chef and owner of Verbena, said the construction did hurt business, but not as much as it could have, largely due to the loyalty of customers.
“We knew we just needed to get through it,” she said.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: