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Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2022 Jason Pramas.
Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2022 Jason Pramas.

“The Sligos of the world might become history a lot quicker than people might think”

(Somerville Wire) – Scape North America, the US arm of the UK-based company of the same name that has for years planned to build in Davis Square, is set to officially propose its new project to the Somerville Planning Board on August 4.

CEO Andrew Flynn, who once promised “a residential, open-market building… to any and all folks interested in living in the building” in a 2019 community meeting, now has his sights set on turning the space above the Burren, Sligo Pub, Mckinnon’s Meat Market, Dragon Pizza, and every business in between into a lab-space development.

Under the subsidiary Scape Davis Square LLC (one of the four subsidiary companies Scape has across Greater Boston), the new proposed development “will be a four-story, mixed-use LEED Platinum building with lab and retail space on the ground floor and lab space on the upper floors,” according to a planning department spokeswoman.

But here’s the kicker—along with all that workspace, there needs to be parking and equipment space as well. Scape is additionally planning to build 77 parking spots underground and a penthouse of mechanical equipment on the top floor.

Flynn has also said he wants to keep the “character and fabric” of Davis Square intact while building. One way his company plans on doing that is by allowing the Burren, one of the most popular live-music bars in the square, to stay open during construction. We asked Scape how that could be possible during a complete demolition and building of a subterranean 180,000 square-foot parking lot, but they did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Additionally, it is unknown whether the local businesses along the Elm Street strip will be allowed to come back after construction, or if they will be given relocation assistance in the meantime. While Scape, during its last neighborhood meeting in August 2021, said that it was helping those businesses find new space, owner Tommy McCarthy of the Burren and manager Doug Sherman of Sligo Pub have yet to hear about any help.

“Not sure when work will begin,” McCarthy said. “Latest news I have it’s going to be a lab building.”

“We haven’t heard anything from Scape,” Sherman said.

In the first year of the pandemic, about 72,700 more restaurants and bars closed nationwide than would close in a normal year, according to the Washington Post. In Davis, only one restaurant, Snappy Kitchen, closed during the pandemic. Still, businesses such as Pepe Boca, India Palace, and Caramel Patisserie remain empty and shuttered.

Business closure could be due to various factors, but in Somerville, local owners have long complained about decreased daytime traffic in the square, and how it needs to be improved to help sustain businesses. While lab and office space will bring in hundreds of workers during the day—it will do so at the cost of some of the very businesses that would benefit from the increased traffic.

Jack Connolly, former Ward 6 Alderman and member of community action group DavisNow, said the square is at “a tipping point.”

“The small commercial stores that Davis has made its history with are going to be gradually phased out for more open concepts,” Connolly said. “The Sligos of the world might become history a lot quicker than people might think.”

Connolly’s group has pitched building pedestrian walkways, repairing sidewalks, and fixing open electrical poles to increase business revenue and keep the “unique and vibrant culture” of the square. According to Connolly’s group, virtually none of the proposed recommendations by the group have been implemented by the City since 2020.

Meanwhile, Somerville officials are positive about the Scape development, citing public support. Asked about the potential impacts a lab building could have in Davis, Director of Economic Development Thomas Galligani said in a statement, “The City (administration and City Council) and the community stakeholders decided that commercial development was preferable … It helps to build a daytime population for Davis Square to keep the stores and restaurants more viable.”

Regarding the stores and restaurants that the commercial development will displace, Galligani said, “presumably all of those tenants will need to move out, and it’s an open question if we can find other options for them to stay in the square, but we’re working on it.”

One way Galligani and his team are working to help those tenants is by trying “to facilitate as we can, soft landings, whether that’s finding a space for them somewhere else in the square… [or] somewhere outside of the square.” Galligani was not aware of any soft landing spots that have been secured for any of the potentially displaced businesses on Elm.

If this proposal gets passed by Somerville—which Scape has $10 million riding on happening—Davis Square will change forever. Sligo, Mckinnon’s, and Dragon Pizza will likely be gone for good, along with their neighbors. As a preview, one can check out other gentrified squares like Kendall and Harvard, where countless locally-owned stores and bars have been replaced by trendy chains, banks, labs, and luxury offices.

Photo credit: Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2022 Jason Pramas.

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Ronan Fitzgerald is a reporting intern for DigBoston and the Somerville Wire.

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