2012-11-09 / Front Page

Relief from ‘construction fatigue’ here

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Manuel Peña’s restaurant, Taco Trio, has been located on the corner of Ocean Street and Cottage Road for the past year and a half. There aren’t many locations in South Portland better for a restaurant than that corner.

The area attracts both pedestrians who visit the many storefronts in the Knightville area, as well as commuters who drive across the Casco Bay Bridge.

But this summer, Peña prepared for a challenge. His restaurant is located at the epicenter of a construction project that separated underground storm drainage lines and widened sidewalks in the neighborhood. The project that disrupted traffic and pedestrian flow in the area for the better part of six months will be wrapped up later this week, just a few days after construction finished to renovate Mill Creek Park, just down the street from his restaurant.

But even with yellow caution tape strung up right outside his front door, Peña said business stayed steady. Peña used Twitter and Facebook to get the word out that Taco Trio was open, and even offered some special “construction” deals via social media.

“People were just jumping the tape and just looking for a way in, coming in the back door, it was great,” he said.

Still, he is glad the work is finishing in Knightville, and that reaction isn’t just confined to his restaurant. It extends to other business owners, residents and city hall.

“I think this community’s had a little construction fatigue,” said City Manager Jim Gailey. “We’re glad that things are buttoning up.”

Gailey said the streetlights should be turned on and the roundabout on Cottage Road and Ocean Street should be paved by the week ending Sunday, Nov. 11. Road striping has finished on Ocean Street to make the block between E and D streets one way. That was done to accommodate the widened sidewalks and maintain the angled parking in front of the businesses in that area.

Originally, design engineers’ plans called for parallel parking in that area, but business owners fought to keep the parking arrangement for customers who wanted to get quickly in and out. B Street resident and Planning Board member Caroline Hendry was an advocate of the parallel parking plan, but said she is still pleased with the new look of the neighborhood, and glad the “long hot summer of construction” is over.

“It really had to be done. The separated sewer system is so important to our city,” Hendry said. “It’s over. I’m glad it’s over.”

The construction fatigue felt in Knightville extended to nearby Mill Creek Park, where crews with bulldozers worked most of the summer to install the stonework around the pond, new pathways and a sitting area around the Veteran’s Service Monument near the Broadway entrance to the park.

The city held a dedication ceremony Saturday, Nov. 3 to thank those who contributed to the redesign of the park. That group included city staff, landscape architect Regina Leonard and Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth, which designed and built a new skate shelter that will be moved into the park this winter.

The Rotary Club had help with the shelter from students at Southern Maine Community College’s construction technology program.

“Not every New England town has something like this,” said Mayor Patti Smith at the ceremony in the park.

She noted that the park was a place where residents could “relax, take a breath and enjoy what’s important in life.”

While many complimented the park’s current design, it was a tough place to relax or exercise over the course of the summer.

Sgt. Cory Kelley works at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting office on Ocean Street. Every second Saturday morning, Marine recruits preparing for boot camp come down to Mill Creek to run through exercises and drills.

“It was kind of hectic some Saturdays, with the ‘dozers and stuff. We just found other stuff to do,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the recruits would occasionally run down to Bug Light Park and work out there when construction was really heavy, but now, he’s happy with the result in Mill Creek.

“It looks great. Over the summer I didn’t know what they were doing, but now it looks really nice.”

Parkside Terrace resident Barbara Everett has a couple reservations about the redesign of Mill Creek Park. She thought the new stonework was beautiful, but worried the garden area may be too close to the busy intersection of Broadway and Ocean Street. She likes the idea of a bridge crossing the pond, but thought that more bridges, set for construction at an unspecified date in the future in Phase II of the renovations, are probably overkill. Still, she, too, was generally happy with the results.

“It looks a lot nicer than I anticipated,” Everett said as she tossed a Frisbee to her dog, Echo.

Everett said she comes down to the park three or four times a day to play with her 7-year-old border collie. As Everett speaks, Echo waited patiently, crouched on all fours with his Frisbee in front of him, ready to spring up and chase it down.

“He would have gone crazy if he couldn’t play,” Everett said.

His owner and others in the Knightville area may have suffered from some construction fatigue this summer, but Echo

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