A proposal to bring a Beer Works restaurant and a Crunch gym to Davis Square has led to varying opinions about the desired character of the square and the need to fill a long-vacant building there.
At a crowded pubic meeting held Monday night—the second public meeting about the topic—Joe Slesar, owner of Beer Works, answered questions about his plans to open Somerville Beer Works at 240 Elm St., a 45,000 square-foot building that once housed a Social Security office.
Slesar, referring to concerns expressed at the meeting held two weeks earlier, stressed Beer Works is not a bar, gin-mill, watering hole, night club or "shot and a beer place."
"We really are about being a restaurant. We really are about being a brewery," he said.
Beer Works, which currently has six restaurants, including near Fenway Park and TD Garden, brews its beers on site, which makes it unique, Slesar said. He said 65 percent of the restaurants' revenues comes from food, and 35 percent comes from beverages.
Some residents at the meeting questioned whether Beer Works was the right fit for Davis Square. One person commented that Beer Works is a chain, and people in the area were looking for "something that makes Davis Square different from other places."
Slesar said, "We are a small, local chain," and he added, "We actually have some strengths being a chain ... we can invest in a site like this," something a smaller business wouldn't be able to do.
Others asked how many TVs Somerville Beer Works would have, suggesting it would be a sports bar, which a handful of people opposed. Others said they'd visited other Beer Works restaurants and they weren't sports bars.
Estelle McDonough, a lifelong Davis Square resident, was one of those who felt it would be a sports bar, and she said, "My impression is you are gearing this to the young people of this city," referring to college students and young professionals. "Davis Square is turning into a young square, only for the young."
"I think we're losing the uniqueness of the square," she said. Slesar said, "Our client base is very wide and diverse."
Another man said, "I don't think it's the end of the world" if Beer Works came to Davis Square. He noted it's nearly impossible to find a restaurant seat in Davis Square on a Friday night, so "it doesn't seem like Davis Square is at capacity."
Beer Works would be on the ground-floor of 240 Elm St., and a franchised branch of Crunch Gym is proposed for the second floor (with a free-weights room on the first floor).
Marc Kamhi, director of sales and marketing for the independent company that would own the Crunch franchise, and Michael Lamparski, director of facilities management, said their gym would offer memberships from $9.95 to $19.95, and there would be no contract.
"No place offers this many services for this low price with no contract," Kamhi said. He projected the gym would have a membership base of around 5,000 people, mostly people who live around the area. The gym would have a bare bones approach, with certain luxuries, such as towel service and saunas, dispensed with.
No Trader Joe's
Michael Agiros, owner of the building, said he preferred to bring Beer Works and Crunch to the building. If that plan didn't work out—for instance, if Beer Works didn't receive a liquor license—he would likely divide the space into smaller subdivisions. He said he gets phone calls every day from places like Subway, frozen yogurt shops, tobacco stores and Five Guys, all who would like to come to the building.
Responding to questions about brining Trader Joe's to the location, he said, "Trader Joe's has no interest. They're looking at Assembly Square."
Changes to Design
Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, who represents Davis Square, said the project's architects, Davis Square Architects, who have an office in the building, had made changes to the design since the meeting two weeks earlier.
"This is a diametrically different" design, she said, expressing support for the new design, which would maintain many of the building's historic details.
As part of the plan, the Dunkin' Donuts, which is at the corner of Elm and Chester streets, would move out of the corner storefront and into a new space, within the building, along Elm Street.
Gewirtz said there were attributes and drawbacks to the Beer Works plan. "I'm trying to bring diversity here," she said, adding that she brought a friend who owns a grocery store to the building to gauge her friend's interest in the space.
"This storefront has been empty for a long time. That doesn't mean we have to settle," she said.
She said she's received emails from people who oppose and support the Beer Works proposal, adding, "I've gotten more emails in support."
She said, "There are some benefits with having a family restaurant in Davis Square."
Beer Works' plans in Davis Square are contingent on getting a 7-day alcohol license from the Somerville Licensing Commission. The commission will hear the case on Oct. 21, according to Richard DiGirolamo, an attorney for Beer Works.
It will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.