s-spwillardarts Arts center, cafe envisioned for Willard Square

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Willard Square could soon have a new art studio and cafe.
But first, the women behind the effort are reaching out to the neighborhood association for input and will present their idea during the group’s Feb 19 meeting.
The studio and cafe are being considered for a vacant, two-story home on the corner of Willow and Preble streets. The home, owned Lisa Foster, was rezoned in 2006 to allow retail and studio uses.
Foster, who lives in London, England, said she inherited the house when her grandmother died in 2003. Since then, she has been keen on the idea of starting a business that would enrich the community, rather than having it become another bulky residential development.
“Developers were flying around like buzzards,” Foster said.
Foster said she envisions an artists’ co-op, where members could share studio space during the day and offer fine arts classes at night. Foster said she would not compete with Art Night Out on Cottage Road, which offers courses in crafts and metalsmithing.
Foster also plans to have a public art gallery, which would feature the works of local artists and co-op members.
She also envisions a small cafe with a terrace along Preble Street, where artists and community members can mingle. She is hoping to offer beer and wine in addition to coffee, but does not want to compete with Scratch Bakery.
“We don’t want to tread on something that’s very successful,” she said.
Foster’s husband, Mark Foley, who is an architect, said he is most impressed with the family atmosphere of the Willard area. The duo worked with city planners throughout 2006 to rezone the property.
“There’s nothing showy about it, but it has a lovely gentle quality – a human scale,” Foster said. “(The old ordinance) began to break down what was so interesting and human about the character of that area.”
The studio would be managed locally by Jeanelle Demers, a 22-year-old Auburn resident who recently graduated from the University of Vermont. She contacted Foster about the project after seeing a listing on Craigslist.
Demers, who will move to the Portland area, said Willard Square is a natural location for a community arts center, which she hopes will eventually incorporate music performances.
“We want to just create a space where you can come, spend time and be surrounded by art,” she said. “Music is a form of art, so that would be a great addition if we have the space for it.”
The arts center is currently planned to remain within the existing two-story house, which the group hopes to fully renovate by the end of June and open in July.
If all goes well, Foster said she would like to add a few more residential units to the property to make the project economically viable. The property can hold five residential units, she said.
“It’s a rather small property,” she said. “But that’s partly the beauty of it. We can start small and grow.”
Foster and Demers will present their concept to the Willard Neighborhood Association on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Betsy Ross Community Room.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.