South Portland board OKs revised plan for Knightville tavern, inn

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A revised plan for Big Babe’s Tavern was unanimously approved Wednesday by the seven-member Planning Board.

Ginger Cote, who owns the former Griffin Club property on Ocean Street in Knightville, has decided to redevelop the lot as a tavern with a small inn instead of condominiums. The new project is expected to cost $1.2 million.

Cote said the tavern will feature live music from 8:30-11:30 p.m., like many bars in a commercial zone. She said she is not going to run a large music venue like Portland’s Aura or House of Music.

“It’s a bar, there will be music and dinner, it’s that simple,” Cote said at the Sept. 26 meeting.

Neighbors of the property had concerns about noise, but were assured insulation and soundproofing, including acoustic glass, will be used in the construction of the building.

Timothy Donahue, who lives across the street from the project, said he believes the business is a “fabulous vision,” but expressed concern about people congregating and smoking outside the establishment.

Cote said she will not allow smoking outside the entrances. 

Board member Linda Boudreau said she hopes construction will begin soon, and called the design of the structure much more attractive than the empty lot now at the corner of Ocean and C streets.

Cote bought the property at 60 Ocean St. in June 2017 for $600,000 and presented plans in January for a four-story building with a music venue and restaurant on the first floor, with five residential condos above. The condos were priced from $525,000-$875,000.

That plan has been replaced by a two-story building with five rooms to be operated as an inn above the tavern, according to documents submitted to the Planning Department Aug. 22. 

Two entrances will be on C Street: one for the tavern and the other to provide access to the lodging space. Changing the tavern entrance to C Street from Ocean Avenue will use available space more efficiently, Community Planner Steve Puleo said last week. 

Cote last month said she is excited about the new project and believes the inn will be a better fit for the neighborhood. She said she hopes to offer rental kayaks and bicycles for her guests, and attract more visitors and foot traffic to Knightville.

Under Cote’s new proposal, the 64-seat tavern would have a separate lounge, serve lunch and dinner, and be open until midnight. In keeping with the original proposal, Cote will reside in the building.

Parking requirements for the project dictate a total of 15 spaces to accommodate the businesses. Eight parking spaces will be available on site, with three spaces available along C Street and four off-site spaces, according to the plans.

An Aroostook County native, Cote has lived in South Portland for 15 years. She is a professional musician who has toured for decades with artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, and has said there is a need for a music scene in the city and more support for the arts.

The 5,800-square-foot, circa-1900 building that housed the Griffin Club was razed in April. In its heyday, the club attracted national sports celebrities and always entertained a loyal local clientele.

Cote previously said she will hang a plaque in the new tavern as a tribute to Griffin Club founder Eddie Griffin and an acknowledgment of the building’s history as a boxing club and Irish pub. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

A rendering of the revised Big Babe’s Tavern planned at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland. The Planning Board approved the project 7-0 on Sept. 26.

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