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Massive lab building will displace some landmark Davis Square businesses

The Burren, a popular Irish bar in Davis Square, will remain open during construction, but several other businesses will close and may not return.

An upcoming mixed-use development in Davis Square will displace several landmark businesses, with the exception of The Burren, a popular Irish pub that will remain open throughout construction. JennyMae Kho

A four-story life sciences development is coming to the heart of Davis Square, displacing several landmark storefronts in the Somerville neighborhood. 

The city’s Planning Board recently approved plans for the mixed-use building, slated for 231-249 Elm St. and 6-8 and 12 Grove St. — a block currently home to businesses including The Burren, Martsa on Elm Tibetan Cuisine, When Pigs Fly, McKinnon’s Meat Market, Sligo Pub, and Dragon Pizza.

At least one of those businesses, Sligo Pub, says the displacement will likely result in permanent closure; McKinnon’s Meat Market also anticipated possible closure or permanent relocation in the wake of the construction.

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“The Davis Square neighborhood has been an excellent location for us,” Kelly Melin, who runs Sligo Pub, said in an email interview with Boston.com. “There is a great mix of the old and the new. There are businesses that have been here for a very long time, a great mix of shopping and dining, and new fun places that pop up here and there.”

She added: “For now, we all just try not to focus on when things will end and just keep enjoying every moment we have here.”

What the plans entail

Scape North America — a developer focused on innovative residential and affordable housing projects — initially proposed a building with approximately 250 residential units, as representatives detailed in a 2019 public meeting.

Davis Square

However, the company pivoted and unveiled plans for the commercial building after Somerville rezoned the area to disallow residential use, Banker & Tradesman reported. 

Designed by Utile, the new building will include lab and commercial space on the ground floor, and lab space on the upper floors, according to plans filed with the city. The project also comes with 77 parking spaces for cars and 33 parking spaces for bikes.

Construction will displace many of the existing businesses on the block, with the exception of The Burren, a popular Irish bar that will remain open throughout.

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Developers previously estimated construction will last around 18 to 20 months, though a spokesperson for Scape said the timeline is still unknown.

Waiting game

Meanwhile, remaining businesses wait with bated breath.

Charlie Bougas, owner of McKinnon’s Meat Market, said he was told last year that once the developer received city approval, McKinnon’s would get a letter giving the business six months to wind down and move out.

That letter has yet to arrive, he said in an email interview.

At Sligo Pub, Melin similarly said she had not received information on the development’s progress. Boston.com reached out to Scape for comment.

Rachel Nadkarni, Somerville’s acting director of economic development, told the Planning Board on Sept. 8 that the city confirmed that developers have had conversations with each tenant about what they would like to see for their future at the site.

Some of the businesses are interested in returning, she said, and some are not.

‘A very hard thing to process’

Some, like Sligo, say they’ll have no choice but to shutter permanently.

“We will eventually have to close,” Melin said. “The options to relocate or [reopen] are not really feasible for us.”

She said it’s an emotional process for her family and Sligo’s employees and loyal customers. 

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“The thought of closing down after 30+ [years] is a very hard thing to process,” Melin said. “It is especially hard after losing my father this past year. He loved this place and was here running the show every day for the past 30+ years until his health & COVID slowed him down.”

People cross the street in Somerville's Davis Square.
People cross the street in Somerville’s Davis Square. – Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Bougas said the future of McKinnon’s is up in the air. 

“We’re still not sure,” he said. “We won’t be able to stay open during construction, and it really doesn’t make sense to set up a temporary storefront elsewhere. Most likely, we’ll be forced to relocate permanently or close.”

Bougas said he plans to shift some McKinnon’s employees to his other store, Broadway Marketplace in Cambridge, to retain longtime staff. 

“We were told that we’d be offered an opportunity to reopen in a newly designed storefront [in the development], but that has yet to be addressed,” he said. 

Scape North America CEO Andrew Flynn said during the Sept. 8 Planning Board meeting that the company is committed to further engagement with residential abutters and stakeholders, including retail tenants.

“One of the pieces we will continue to work on is engaging with certain retail tenants who are interested in coming back,” he said.

Changing the feel of Davis Square

Bougas said the neighborhood surrounding McKinnon’s, which opened in 1965, has been a relatively active one. 

“The challenge with the Scape project is that many neighboring shops have already vacated,” Bougas said. “As a result, we are surrounded by vacant, boarded up storefronts and existing customers often assume that we’ve closed as well. This has definitely impacted ongoing business.”

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Melin also expressed concern about the development’s impact, both on the businesses that will leave and the ones that will stay.

“I understand the economic and financial reasons for going forward with the development, but it will fundamentally change the feel of Davis Square,” she said. “I doubt we will have any of the ‘old’ Somerville left.”

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