Old South Portland Wok Inn could be new Dunkin' Donuts

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The former Wok Inn restaurant on south Main Street has been vacant for the past 3 1/2 years, but now there may be new life for the property.

Cafua Management, owners of more than 300 Dunkin’ Donuts stores in New England, is proposing to raze the former restaurant and build a new Dunkin’ Donuts with outdoor seating.

The property, near the Scarborough town line, is about a half mile from Cafua’s existing Dunkin’ Donuts shop at 633 Main St., and would likely replace that aging structure.

Cafua also owns the former St. John the Evangelist Church at 611 Main St. in Thornton Heights, which it had once hoped to redevelop into a new 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts. But those plans were stymied by public opposition and eventually put out of reach by a zoning change approved by the City Council in 2014.

Greg Nolan, chief development officer for Cafua, said this week that the new Dunkin’ Donuts would be “the most modern and up-to-date” store and would provide Cafua with “a better opportunity to serve the community with a newer and better shop.”

Cafua anticipates there will be about the same amount of traffic generated at the new store as at the Dunkin’ Donuts up the street. In addition to already being in a commercial zone, the former Wok Inn property also has access to Route 1 from a traffic light, which made it attractive for redevelopment, Nolan said.

The plans call for a 2,322-square-foot Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-through, along with another 1,735 square feet of retail space, which would be rented out. Nolan did not say who the prospective tenants might be, but described the space as being built to accommodate “soft retail” use.

The former Wok Inn at 818 Main St. was a popular Chinese-American, fast-food restaurant that opened in 1989. The Lee family, the owners, shuttered the restaurant in early December 2012 and the site has been vacant ever since.

Although no formal site plan application has been filed with the city Planning Department, Josh Reny, South Portland’s economic development director and assistant city manager, said “from the standpoint of traffic and lot size, the Wok Inn site makes a lot of sense” for redevelopment as a new Dunkin’ Donuts.

“The driveway will be located at a traffic light, which should mitigate the potential for traffic issues. Overall, it’s a great project and we’re happy the company is (still willing to) make an investment in South Portland,” Reny said.

But Jane Eberle, president of the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce, said her preference would be to see “a creative, inventive and local reuse of the Wok Inn site, though I certainly have (made) my share of visits to Dunkin’ Donuts.”

She also expressed concern about how Cafua Management has “let the St. John Church property disintegrate when their plans for a Dunkin’ Donuts fell through there.”

The lack of maintenance at the former church led neighbors to file a nuisance complaint with the city in late July, although work has since been done to clean up the property, which also includes a former school and parsonage.

At its meeting on Monday, the City Council scheduled an Oct. 17 public hearing on the nuisance charge. In the meantime, Don Gerrish, the interim city manager, said city staff would monitor the St. John site to ensure that Cafua continues to maintain the property.

Nolan said Cafau is offering the nearly two-acre church property for sale. The asking price is $1.2 million.

Although Eberle has some concerns about a new Dunkin’ Donuts at the former Wok Inn, she also noted the site “has been vacant for many years and I have always thought it a shame that a location on such a busy stretch of Main Street in South Portland should be unused.”

And, she said, “I can speak generally from a chamber perspective of wanting to support thoughtful businesses that fit the scale and character of a neighborhood (and) that brings business and visitors to the area, provides good jobs and reflects the values of a community.”

The Wok Inn property was constructed in 1970. It was listed for sale at $868,000 before going under contract.

Nolan said a site plan application would be filed soon with the city and that Cafua would move the project forward “as expeditiously as we can. We are hopeful of getting this done as soon as possible.”

The former Wok Inn on outer Main Street in South Portland has been vacant since late 2012. It could see new life as a Dunkin’ Donuts.