This rendering depicts a new four-story building containing Big Babe’s Tavern and residential condos that would replace the closed Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville area. The tavern also would be a music venue. Rendering courtesy of Northeast Civil Solutions Inc.

SOUTH PORTLAND — The owner of the former Griffin Club plans to tear down the Ocean Street landmark and replace it with a modern four-story building that would include five residential condominiums above a live music venue called Big Babe’s Tavern.

Ginger Cote, a musician who bought the well-known sports pub in June, submitted a proposal to city planners Tuesday for the $2 million project. It calls for a somewhat controversial zoning change to meet off-street parking requirements in the Knightville neighborhood that city councilors started reviewing Monday night.

Ginger Cote, seen in June, has decided against trying to renovate the old Griffin Club building.

Cote, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, said she decided to raze the 1800s building at 60 Ocean St. after two structural engineers advised her against renovating it. There’s a gaping hole in the rotted first floor where the bar once stood and utilities throughout the three-story building that haven’t been updated in decades.

“They advised me that it wouldn’t make any sense to save the building,” Cote said Tuesday. “There are so many problems with the property, it’s actually cheaper to tear down and build new.”

Cote and a partner bought the building and a quarter-acre of land for $620,000 from family members of The Griffin Club’s founder, Eddie Griffin. The bar closed in May, inciting widespread disappointment and reminiscing.

Cote is going ahead with the project alone, she said, dedicated to her dream of opening a welcoming and affordable neighborhood tavern that will serve locally sourced food and brews and cater to area musicians.

SAME FOOTPRINT, TALLER BUILDING

Cote, who owns several rental properties, said the new building would fit The Griffin Club’s footprint, but she plans to add a fourth floor to make the project financially viable.

“It will be no bigger than The Griffin Club, just a little bit taller,” Cote said. “The building will be 47 feet tall, so it fits within the 50-foot zoning limit.”

The look of Ocean Street would change with the demolotion of the Griffin Club building. Rendering courtesy of Northeast Civil Solutions Inc./Staff photo by Derek Davis

The current gable-roofed building has three living spaces on the second and third floors that would require major renovations to meet modern building codes. The new flat-roofed building would have five condos, including one on the fourth floor where Cote plans to live.

“I’m going to keep an eye on it like a hawk,” Cote said. “I want it to be a good neighbor all around.”

Unfortunately, Cote said, the property has only 11 parking spaces, and eight of them would be dedicated to condo residents. She needs nine additional spaces to meet the city’s nonresidential off-street parking requirements for customers and employees.

Under current zoning, Cote must either lease or purchase privately owned off-street parking within a 1,500-foot radius of 60 Ocean St. or show that her customers would have access to public off-street parking within a 500-foot radius of her property.

City Planner Tex Haeuser has requested a zoning amendment on Cote’s behalf, suggesting that the radius for public off-street parking spaces could be increased to 1,500 feet to match the radius for private off-street parking.

The plan to replace the former Griffin Club building in South Portland calls for a somewhat controversial zoning change to meet off-street parking requirements. Staff photo by Derek Davis

If the council approves the change, Cote could count spaces in a public lot on Waterman Drive, along Legere Park, which is at the end of C, D and E streets. Big Babe’s Tavern would be located at Ocean and C streets, within 700 feet of the public lot.

“There are 30 spaces in that lot that aren’t really used that much,” said Joshua Reny, assistant city manager.

‘THE BIG PICTURE’

Reny said no one voiced significant opposition to Cote’s building plan during Monday’s council workshop. Some residents offered support, he said, recognizing that the property has been a popular bar for decades and there’s plenty of parking available along Ocean Street after 6 p.m.

However, some people who live on residential “letter streets” that run between Ocean Street and Waterman Drive worried about the future impact of relaxed parking requirements in an up-and-coming neighborhood already plagued by parking and traffic concerns.

Reny said the question facing the council and the community is whether Knightville should be a vibrant mix of homes and businesses that attracts visitors – and the parking and traffic issues that come with them – or whether it should be a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood with just a few coffee shops, restaurants and offices.

“We need to look at the big picture,” Reny said. “This is one project in South Portland’s little downtown area, (but future development) will inevitably bring more people into the neighborhood and that means more parking and traffic.”

A second council workshop on the proposed zoning amendment is scheduled for Dec. 11. A majority of councilors seemed open to the idea, Reny said, though some expressed concern about making the change citywide.

Regardless of the council’s decision, Cote said she plans to raze the building in late December or early January. If the council rejects the amendment, she’ll sell the property and look for another location to open Big Babe’s Tavern.

“The property is worth more without the building on it,” Cote said. “I’m hoping they will work with me, but if not, I’ll sell it and move on.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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