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West Concord

Building project displaces 20 shops

Business owners sorry to leave, worry that vibe will shift

When the building at 50 Beharrell St. in West Concord comes down this fall, some local business owners fear a part of the village’s funky vibe will go with it.

About 20 businesses — including a blacksmith, yoga studio, silversmith, spa, and chimney service — are being displaced to make way for the construction of a 125,000-square-foot, mixed-use building with commercial space and apartments, to be known as Brookside Square.

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“We’re so sad,’’ said Cindy McCullough, owner of 1 on 1 Self Indulgence Spa, which is moving to Acton after nine years in West Concord. “It’s such a nice, eclectic area and businesses all work together. Everyone is going in different directions. I’ll miss the camaraderie of all the businesses here.’’

But Nick Boynton, president of the Concord-based Boynton Co. that owns the property, is excited about the vitality that he thinks the project will bring to the village.

“West Concord is so special because of its people, not because of the architecture, so I think it will still feel the same,’’ Boynton said. My wife and I have lived in the village for about 14 years, and we would never do anything that we thought might negatively impact it. West Concord is very special to us.’’

Boynton bought the building five years ago and has been working with town officials on the permitting process for the property. All the tenants must be out by the end of next month so demolition can start in early December, said Gwendolen Noyes, vice president of the Cambridge-based Oaktree Development LLC, which is developing the project with Boynton.

The commercial space is expected to be done by next fall, while the rest of the project will likely take until February 2015, Noyes said.

Brookside Square will occupy a 5-acre riverside site, and will have about 36,000 square feet of commercial space, with 74 luxury apartmentson the building’s upper floors.

A new road will link Brookside Square with the village’s MBTA commuter-rail station. The project will have a new market square, underground parking, additional surface parking, and direct access to the proposed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. The project will also feature a public park with a network of walking trails on the banks of the Nashoba Brook and adjacent open space areas.

The location has a country feel yet will be just steps from shops, restaurants, and bakeries, Noyes said.

“It’s got all the markers of being smart growth, right next to the train station,’’ Noyes said. “It’s a live, work, play situation with everything in walking distance. It’s an extraordinary situation. You can’t find a site like this. It’s so rare.’’

The commercial space can be used for anything but retail shops. Options include restaurants, light manufacturing, fitness, and medical offices. Boynton said the village already has a retail section, so the town did not want to pull away from the existing businesses.

“Hopefully, we will have tenants that can cater to the apartments so they have some amenities there,’’ Boynton said.

The apartment units will be located on two floors above the commercial space. Most units will have one or two bedrooms, with a handful of studios. Noyes said the tenants will likely be empty-nesters looking to downsize, or young professionals who want access to the train station.

As a part of the project, the former Chrysler car dealership’s parking lot next to the site will be turned into the loop road providing access to the commuter rail lot. Boynton said the goal is to help alleviate the traffic congestion in the village when the train comes through and commuters leave the MBTA parking lot.

“We’ll provide a second egress from the train station so people going west can come through our property and go down Commonwealth Avenue,’’ he said.

Even though the businesses have known for years that they would have to move, it hasn’t been easy. Boynton has been working with the tenants to help them find new locations. He said all but three have found a new space, and 80 percent of those have stayed in Concord.

He has asked them to come back when the work is done, but understands that most won’t want to make the move again.

Maria Skinner, the owner of Yoga and Nia for Life, is moving into a shared space at 135 Commonwealth Ave. She has signed a two-year lease and will consider moving back to Beharrell Street when the building is done, partly because she knows her clients will have designated parking there.

“It seems silly, but I’ve come to really love having people come and be able to park,’’ she said. “Where we are moving, it’s a free-for-all.’’

Skinner said Boynton has been a good landlord, and shethinks the project could be positive for the village.

“I’ve come to grips with the fact that business is business and come to embrace what could be,’’ she said. It could be a really cool place and bring more people to West Concord. With the waterfront, courtyard, and bike trail, it’s going to be as good as some of these things get.’’

Hilary Taylor, owner of Merlin’s Silver Star, will be moving into the same location as Skinner on Commonwealth Avenue.

The silversmith said she sees the move as an opportunity to expand her business. She said it has been more of a studio with erratic hours to fit her schedule. Her new space will have fixed hours and will include more retail jewelry sales.

“It’s more of a storefront, so the exposure will be much better,’’ Taylor said. “It’s forcing me to take the business up to another level.’’

Taylor has been at Beharrell Street for 15 years, so the change is difficult. She has signed a two-year lease and will reevaluate then whether she wants to move back.

She said she’s trying to keep an open mind about the project but is concerned about the increased traffic and loss of affordable space for small-business owners.

“With 75 apartments, that will bring a lot more people to the village,’’ Taylor said. “The influx of people is great for businesses but difficult for parking and bottlenecks coming down the street. I don’t want to lose the nooks and crannies and funky old buildings and affordable rents.’’

Boynton said the building is in disrepair and would need a significant amount of work, even if it was not demolished. The renovations would require capital, he said, forcing rents up. He also said the new traffic loop should improve, not add to, the traffic woes.

McCullough, though, isn’t convinced.

“It’s not going to be this small, quaint town,’’ she predicted.It will be busy and overwhelming.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.
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