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Washington Avenue is about to get busier

This flower warehouse at 123 Washington Ave. is slated for a food and drink emporium soon. Kathleen Pierce | BDN

This flower warehouse at 123 Washington Ave. is slated for a food and drink emporium soon. Kathleen Pierce | BDN

In a sign of the times, a wholesale flower business occupying a 17,000 foot warehouse on Washington Avenue may soon become a dining and drinking destination.

On Tuesday, commercial real estate developer Jed Harris, who has had the Creighton & Sons, Inc. building at 123 Washington Ave. under contract since August, announced two tenants have signed a letter of intent to move in: Maine Craft Distilling and Island Creek Oysters. There is a third space that is being eyed by a local restaurateur.

As rents rise in established neighborhoods on the peninsula, like the Old Port, interest is growing in the more affordable Washington Avenue. In the last two years, stores and restaurants offering biodynamic wine, barbecue, gourmet brunch and a brewery tasting room have opened along the arterial dividing East Bayside and Munjoy Hill

“This is further proof of the explosion of Washington Ave.,” said realtor Jed Rathband, of KW / The Rathband Company who brokered the deal. “It’s an alternative to the Old Port for locals.”

Harris, who owns the former J.J. Nissen Baking Co. building, and the stretch of commercial buildings on Washington Avenue from Oxbow Blending and Bottling to his new acquisition, expects to close on the building in January. If all goes well, the tenants will open in the spring. “The building is a blank canvas,” said Harris. “It’s going to be great for Portland.”

This marks the first foray into Maine for Island Creek Oysters, a popular Massachusetts wholesale and restaurant company. Harris said the company plans to open an oyster bar and retail space and will use the opportunity to source more Maine oysters for its wholesale business.

Maine Craft Distilling owner Luke Davidson would more than triple his space in the move. “I am very excited about the way this is moving,” said Davidson, who opened in East Bayside three and a half years ago and said he needs more production room as his business grows. “There is great energy and culture there. A lot of new innovative ideas that I am excited and looking forward to be part of.”

Harris, who announced last spring his plans to build a retail block made of shipping containers at the corner of Marion Street and Washington Avenue, said he’s bullish on this fast-changing neighborhood.

“I’ve worked for two and a half years to bring some life here,” he said.

One block away, at 65 Washington Ave., a new furniture and home goods store called Venn and Maker plans to open in late October. On the corner, pho restaurant CÔNG TỬ BỘT will open in early 2017 as a Swiss software company called SpotMe settles into an adjacent office space.

“That’s six new tenants on two blocks,” said Harris.

Factor in Hardshore Distilling Company, 53 Washington Ave., which starts selling gin in late October, a new Japanese gastro pub across the street and the owners of Duckfat renting space in the Coffee By Design building for a commissary kitchen, and the rate of change is dizzying.

“When I moved here in 1982, it was a rough neighborhood,” said Richard Creighton, owner of Creighton & Sons, Inc. He stopped short of announcing his flower business will close for good. “A merger may be in the process. Talk to me in two weeks.”

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