ROCKPORT — Following a fall and winter of dormancy, construction is now under way at 141 Commercial St. (Route 1) in Rockport, preparing the building which once housed the Helm restaurant for a new iteration – Ports of Italy, a fine dining Italian eatery.
“We should be open the beginning of May or the beginning of June,” said owner Sante Calandri on Feb. 24. Calandri purchased the property last year.
Calandri owns two existing Ports of Italy restaurants in Boothbay and Kennebunk, the menus for which feature handmade pasta, fresh seafood and traditional Mediterranean dishes. He said he envisioned the Rockport location would offer similar cuisine and ambiance, but that unlike the Boothbay location, the Rockport restaurant would offer a lunch menu.
Camden-based Maine Coast Construction is currently working to remodel and expand the existing building.
Renderings filed at the Rockport Town Office show plans to add decks at the south and rear sides of the building which will offer outdoor seating under canopies or awnings; a lounge area has also been designed. Architect Gerald Weinand drafted the blueprints for the new restaurant.
Rockport Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford said Feb. 25 that the Planning Board granted the project the possibility to expand the building by up to 30 percent due to it’s location in the town’s shoreland zone, although plans reflect a more modest expansion. Bickford said that everyone involved in the project has cooperated fully with the town and been a pleasure to work with.
The landscaping will also be redesigned, and a “yard area” at the corner of Commercial and Main streets will be planted with a wildflower mix; planter beds will also be added along the front of the restaurant.
A gravel access road may be added from Main Street at the rear of the building to allow access to propane and septic tanks, a grease tank and dumpster.
“We want to offer the same good food and make sure we take care to provide excellent service,” said Calandri last year, after purchasing the restaurant.
He said the Rockport property appealed to him because of the number of people who traverse Route 1 each day.
The Commercial Street property was listed last year through Camden Real Estate with an asking price of $595,000. The restaurant building and two outbuildings at the corner of Commercial and Main Street sit on 1.8 acres. It was owned and operated by Louise Grimmel as the Helm for the previous 33 years.