Tom Minervino said he looks forward to having the Main Street window frontage and the spacious interior at the former Big Fin Poké space for his new restaurant. Chance Viles / American Journal

The downtown space Big Fin Poké vacated last week for a new spot at Rock Row won’t be empty for long, thanks to the owners of Legends Rest Taproom just down the River Walk.

Siblings Tom and Meg Minervino plan to open a barbecue restaurant, tentatively named “Paper City Barbecue,” at 855 Main St., this spring or summer.

The new restaurant’s vibe will be very different from the taproom’s, Tom Minervino said. It will have a family-friendly atmosphere, complete with some arcade games and things for young kids to do.

“We are excited to be right in the front, with windows and a view of the park which is being redone,” Minervino said. “In the few years we’ve been here, there have been a lot of positive changes downtown, so it’s a good place to be.”

Changes, such as the ongoing rework of the Westbrook Common that Minervino referred to, are what keep downtowns busy and healthy, according to Westbrook Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson.

Stevenson cited the potential expansion of the River Walk and the upcoming parking garage included in the Vertical Harvest building project. The River Walk and Westbrook Common should bring more visitors downtown and the parking garage will give them more places to park.

Big Fin Poké closed last week, with just a few things left in the old location. Legends Rest Taproom owners plan to open a barbecue restaurant here by summer. Chance Viles / American Journal

“We are investing millions of dollars into our downtown, and we are leveraging (businesses) to be able to come here,” Stevenson said. “It’s happening now, with the garage and Common space, we aren’t just talking about things. We have a serious investment in our downtown because the community has been committed to keeping our downtown.”

While the Big Fin restaurant is leaving downtown, Stevenson points to the speed in which the space was taken and the low downtown vacancy rate overall as signs of a healthy downtown.

He also noted that Big Fin is staying in the city.

Big Fin Poké, Greater Portland’s first poke spot, opened on Main Street in 2017. Owner Jimmy Liang eventually opened a second location in South Portland to serve the Hawaiian bowls of marinated raw fish with vegetables or fruit and rice.

It will open at Rock Row in a few weeks.

“We moved to Rock Row to get that road exposure, but couldn’t keep the second (Westbrook) location because it was just too close,” said Samantha Liang, Big Fin Poké’s social media director and daughter of the owner.

Keeping a downtown like Westbrook’s vibrant is reliant on investment, said Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant.

His downtown experienced a “steep exodus” in the 1980s-90s, he said, as businesses left for new show shopping centers. That left the city with vacant buildings, which is perceived negatively, he said. That’s no longer the case, he said, because of similar investments to Westbrook’s, including more available parking.

“Your downtown is how others perceive you and that is important,” Casavant said. “Our investments like fixing sidewalks, adding new lights, flowers, brought private investments that made our downtown how it is today. People brag about (being from Biddeford) now, where when I became mayor 10 years ago, people would say they were from ‘Greater Portland.'”

Stevenson said Rock Row will boost business downtown.

“Overall, we expect Rock Row to not take from our downtown, but add to it. People who visit Rock Row will visit downtown, too, because it is such a different experience,” he said.

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