The Snow Squall closed so quickly three years ago that pots and pans still hang in the shuttered South Portland restaurant that once was a downtown destination for fine dining.

Although the Snow Squall offered views of the Fore River and Portland Harbor, the former restaurant languished on the real estate market, another forlorn sign of better days for the Ocean Street business area.

But renewed interest in South Portland’s downtown is prompting new plans for the 8,900-square-foot brick building. The former restaurant and banquet facility is expected to be marketed soon as five commercial condominiums units.

Real estate agent Andrew Ingalls, who is brokering the property, says the units would be an affordable alternative for businesses paying high rents for similar space in Portland. “Given the opportunity, business owners would rather own than lease,” said Ingalls.

Redevelopment plans for the Snow Squall are among efforts under way to transform South Portland’s downtown into a bustling center of commerce, similar to the Old Port but without the congestion, parking problems or high costs of doing business.

Two new projects – an office building and a mixed-use complex – represent the largest developments ever proposed for downtown.

On Tuesday, the South Portland Planning Board is expected to vote on a proposal to build a four-story office building off Waterman Drive, where Beale Street Barbeque is located.

Dubbed 100 Waterman, the offices will have sweeping harbor views and be sold as condominium units.

Construction would start this fall after planning board approval, with Beale Street continuing to operate at the site, as it scouts for a new South Portland location.

Ingalls, representing 100 Waterman, said he expects that law firms and other white-collar professionals will want to invest in new office condos rather than rent in the Old Port, where demand outstrips supply and real estate is expensive.

City planners seem pleased with the concept. They have endorsed the idea of owner-occupied business condos, saying that property owners have more interest in investing in the community where their businesses are located.

The 100 Waterman location is just a few blocks from the construction site for a second project planned for downtown. Ground broke this summer for Mill Cove Landing, a 39,000-square-foot development off Ocean Street.

Mill Cove Landing is being built at the site of a former auto repair shop in the heart of downtown, across from a row of small retail shops and businesses. It will offer first-floor commercial space on Ocean Street and upscale residential condominiums that face Mill Cove and Portland Harbor. A marketing office for the condominiums will soon open in Willard Square.

Developer Paul Leddy said he expects that the first-floor space for shops and restaurants will be completed by late spring 2008. The commercial space will be leased or sold.

Leddy already is being contacted by business owners interested in locating there, he said. The entire project will be built over two years.

Steve Puleo, South Portland community planner, said that Mill Cove Landing and 100 Waterman represent $12 million in new development for downtown.

He described the two projects as the “cornerstones” for a revitalized downtown, benefiting existing retail shops, offices and residential property owners.

“You will have an educated work force moving in that will require a range of services and resources,” Puleo said. “They will have a vested interest in the community.”

The existing downtown shops and restaurants were cut off from a lot of vehicle traffic when the Casco Bay Bridge connecting South Portland and Portland was rebuilt in the 1990s and bypassed downtown.

Business owners say they are counting on new development to breathe new life into an area that seems poised for a comeback. With ample parking and water views of Portland Harbor, South Portland’s downtown seems to have the ingredients for gentrification.

“We’re certainly hoping that the important pieces here are beginning to fall into place for this area,” Puleo said. “We’re hoping that (the new developments) will bring a sense of place and connectedness to downtown… that this will no longer be a place of fragmented hopes and dreams.”

Developers are banking on that vision. The Web site for Mill Cove Landing notes the “marinas, parks, shopping and dining (that) are within walking distance” of downtown, as well as the airport and Portland, which are just minutes away.

Ingalls said the affordability of relocating to downtown South Portland makes so much sense that he moved his own real estate business from Portland.

Ingalls operated his real estate company on Commercial Street until buying a building in South Portland, across from Mahoney Middle School. He said the location is convenient because it’s only minutes from Portland’s downtown.

Likewise, he expects other professionals will be just as interested in commercial space at 100 Waterman, Mill Cove Landing and the former Snow Squall restaurant. He predicts the developments will lead to more renovations and interest in downtown.

“These developments will raise property values and ratchet up the level of what people want to do downtown,” Ingalls said. “It’s classic gentrification. With more businesses moving in, there is more room for growth. The quality factor has a ripple effect.”


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