Portsmouth teeming with development workBy GRETYL MACALASTER
Union Leader Correspondent
February 09. 2013 10:16PM
PORTSMOUTH - From the Portsmouth Traffic Circle to the Greenland town line, development along Route 1 is booming.
Construction activity got under way at the former Yoken's restaurant site last week where a Rite-Aid pharmacy, a two-story Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank and a restaurant will soon take shape. The adjacent Comfort Inn will also undergo some upgrades, and the Cumberland Farms convenience store and gas station diagonally across the street is also seeking city approval for a renovation.
The complex is scheduled for completion in mid- to late-May, according to paperwork on file with the city. The future of the iconic Yoken's "Thar She Blows" whale sign still on site is still unknown.
City planning Director Rick Taintor said there is room at the back of the lot for additional development down the road.
On the opposite side of the Market Basket plaza from the Yoken's site, the new 20,800-square-foot Armed Forces Reserve Center is nearing completion.
The $7 million federal project will house three permanent full-timers and will have a maximum weekend use of 100 people. The building includes a weapons simulator among other training areas.
"It is a big training facility," Taintor said.
Further down Route 1, the Southgate Plaza featuring McKinnon's market, Shio and Big Lots will soon house a Cinemagic movie theater, a restaurant featuring a historic diner and other businesses.
The owners of successful Portsmouth restaurant STREET also announced last week that they have leased the former Taco Bell location in the Southgate Plaza and plan to open a Mexican-style cemita restaurant.
Across Constitution Avenue, local restaurateurs Jay McSharry and Joel Harris have leased the 3,663-square-foot former Friendly's restaurant and plan to operate a full-service Mexican restaurant to be named "Vida Cantina."
McSharry also recently leased a building on Islington Street in the West End of Portsmouth where he hopes to operate a tea house.
Back on Route 1, the Bourneville Jeep dealership across from the Southgate Plaza is proposing taking some land adjacent to its property to turn it into a test driving track for Jeep vehicles.
Taintor said the dealership still has to go before the board of adjustment and the conservation commission for approval before plans are submitted to the planning board.
Further north on Route 1, the new Goodwill is open for business near Crossroads House, and a building that will house another bank and restaurant is under construction at the corner of Greenleaf Woods Drive.
Unlike some other communities, land use boards in Portsmouth did not see a slow down during the "Great Recession," and although many projects have been approved, funding kept them from getting started, Taintor said.
"It is always good to improve the aesthetics and appearance of the road, and we're looking forward to these developments," he said.
Active development is not evident just on Route 1.
In the downtown area, an old Islington Street Getty gas station will soon be reinvented as a three-story building with a first-floor Laundromat and two floors of office space.
Taintor said there is also interest in redeveloping the Port Traders building, which has been up for sale for "a long time."
There is also interest in residential development with a new, massive condominium building recently replacing a former Kline's furniture store and a 14-unit, four-story condo building under construction across from the Mobil Station on Islington Street.
The third and final phase of the massive Portwalk project is under way in the North End, and a British Beer Company restaurant is scheduled to open in the second Portwalk building in April.
The Rosa is undergoing renovations on State Street near the Memorial Bridge project, and there is a proposal for a mixed-use building on the former Rosa parking lot across the street, which houses an old gas station that served as "The Station" pop-up restaurant this past summer.
On Daniel Street nearby, the former Connie Bean Center will also undergo a renovation under new, private ownership.
There is still no confirmation on when the federal government will move the downtown federal building out to Pease International Tradeport as has been talked about for years, but Pease Development Authority Director David Mullen said at a recent meeting that he heard they would like to start construction on the new building in 2013.
Reports at a recent meeting of the Seacoast Board of Realtors on the commercial and residential real estate front were also good.