By Jean Laurin, President, Newmark Knight Frank Devencore
Espace Montréal Magazine: Volume 26 #1 - April 2017
Downtown Montreal is currently undergoing a process of transformation, with a series of projects underway that will fundamentally change the way we live and work in the city for decades to come.
Should all of the projects currently under construction or in the latter planning stages come to fruition, the city as we know it today will appear, and function, very differently. Let's imagine life in Montreal in 2021
You start the workday from home on the South Shore, board the new futuristic, fully-automated commuter train, the Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM) and head north across the new Champlain Bridge. As you travel over the attractive curved span and arrive on the island, take in the expanse of green space bisecting the newly renovated Bonaventure Expressway, which is now an urban boulevard with treed walking paths, public spaces, and a 10-metre tall sculpture by artist Jaume Plensa.
From there, a quick commute takes you up to the Université de Montréal's new 51-acre campus in Outremont, built on the site of the former Outremont rail yard. Featuring the university's new Science Complex and Innovation Centre, the expansive site will also include residential projects, businesses and public spaces.
Or imagine that your workday begins in the West Island. There is a new REM commuter station located just west of the Fairview mall in the new heart of Pointe-Claire, from which you head east into Montreal, passing along the way the completely renovated Turcot Interchange. Your commute takes you through the heart of the downtown area, past the newly covered section of the Ville Marie Expressway near City Hall and down towards the Vieux Port and the Alexandria Pier, which has been rebuilt as a landmark passenger terminal. Along the river to the east is the busy new Viau container terminal, which highlights Montreal's importance as a port city.
Or--and perhaps this is the best scenario yet for those who have dodged the ubiquitous orange traffic cones and faced long commutes over the past few years---your day begins at one of the new condominiums in Griffintown, just southwest of the downtown core. In the 1800s Griffintown was home to the city's Irish immigrant population, but in the 1960s much of the area was razed to make way for the Bonaventure Expressway and parking lots, and Griffintown was zoned as light industrial. Now it has been designated as a Quartier de l'innovation, anchored by the Cité Multimédia, and the neighbourhood is a blend of commercial, retail and residential properties. From your condo window--from which you have vistas of the St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Canal--it is only a short walk to your research position at the École de technologie supérieure (ETS).
Simply put, Montreal is undergoing changes the extent of which have not been seen for over 50 years, when a spate of construction and infrastructure activity--which included the city's metro system, Place des Arts, Place Ville Marie, the Champlain Bridge, the Dorval (now Montréal-Trudeau) International Airport and the Bonaventure Expressway--enveloped the city prior to Expo 67.
Cooperation Driving Change
What accounts for the current torrent of activity?
Necessity is one of the primary drivers. For a number of years Montreal has seen many elements of its infrastructure suffering the effects of age (as has been the case with the Champlain Bridge) or obsolete design (the Turcot Interchange). Further, population growth and demographic evolution demand additional capacity and accessibility for our public transit system; hence the need for the light rail network.
A willingness on the part of municipal, provincial and federal governments to advance and fund the changes we are currently seeing is another factor. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has been especially active in his promotion of the city. And this desire at all levels of government to promote the economic development of Montreal is being converted into action.
Finally, there is a renewed spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm among businesspeople, investors, developers and both public and private organizations fuelling the city's rejuvenation. Celebrating the city's 375th anniversary this year has also helped to accelerate activity.
The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec's financing of the REM is the most visible example of this renewed spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation. Montreal International has also successfully attracted a number of global companies to the city, and the Je fais Montréal citizen coalition has worked to create and promote over 180 projects that aim to spark the city's momentum and prosperity. As well, the Montreal Board of Trade continues to encourage emerging business leaders and to work to improve economic conditions.
The economic benefits that will be generated by such a wide range of projects should be considerable. Especially critical are the major infrastructure projects. The improvements being made to the key transportation links in and around the city, as well as the significant boost to public transit that will be provided by the REM will make the downtown core vastly more accessible and help to vitalize the Greater Montreal economy for years to come.
Then there is the human factor. Today's labour force is well-educated, culturally sophisticated and cosmopolitan in outlook. Indeed, the growing population of international students continues to fuel an interesting dynamic for the city. Increasingly, Montrealers want to avoid long commutes, and to live and play near where they work. Attracting and retaining a young, educated workforce is a priority for most employers. Few cities in North America have more to offer than downtown Montreal, but for the downtown area to truly thrive, retail, residential and commercial developments must proceed hand in hand.
This is precisely what is beginning to occur in downtown Montreal, and it bodes well for the future. Indeed, in its 2016 strategic plan, the City of Montreal estimates that, by 2030, the number of residents in the greater downtown area will increase by 50,000.
What follows is a brief overview of the major developments that are reshaping Montreal.
Major Infrastructure Projects
The new Champlain Bridge: The entire project, including the cost for the design and construction of the new bridge as well as the highway approaches and access roads is budgeted at $4.2 billion. More than 50 million cars, trucks and buses will cross it each year, as will the new REM line. It is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2018.
Major Office Developments
Downtown Montreal is also seeing a renaissance in office development, with more new projects under construction or in development than has been the case for many decades. Over 1 million square feet of new office space is currently under construction, and there is another 5 million square feet in the planning or pre-leasing stages.
Recently completed downtown developments include:
Projects currently under construction include:
Upcoming redevelopment projects:
Projects under discussion include:
It should also be noted that Ste. Catherine Street West between Bleury Street and Atwater Avenue, is slated for a $95 million overhaul. The work--which will include wider, heated sidewalks--should be completed in 2019.
Parks and Public Spaces
The ongoing revitalization of Montreal isn't limited to the downtown core. A wide range of other projects that will add parks and improve public spaces are also well underway. These include:
In tandem with the surge in office development, condo development is also flourishing in downtown Montreal, which is a recent and welcome phenomenon. Increasing residential density in the downtown area will serve to further boost the city's vibrancy, augment its tax base, and increase the number and range of services that are available.
Among the largest condo developments are the two phases of Cadillac Fairview's Tour Canadiens at the Bell Centre location. Phase 1, which will be completed this year, is a 50-storey, 555 unit development, while Phase 2, which should be competed in 2019, is a 50-storey, 590 unit project. Devimco, which has been the most active developer in the Griffintown area, has a number of additional condo and mixed-use projects in the works, and the Gare Viger project, a $250 million redevelopment covering over 1 million square feet in Old Montreal that will combine residential, commercial and office spaces, is also under consideration. The two-tower YUL condo development is underway at 1400 René-Lévesque Boulevard West, as is the two-phase O'Nessy condo development in Shaughnessy Village just west of the downtown core.
Numerous hotel and condo tower projects are also being planned, including Humaniti, which will cover the block defined by Viger, Bleury, de la Gauchetière and Hermine Streets. Humaniti will include a 200-room hotel and 140 condos as well as retail, rental and office space. On René-Lévesque Boulevard just south of Crescent Street, a 44-storey hotel and residential tower is also being constructed; it will be the home of the Holiday Inn Hotel Suites.
A Development Revolution: The City of the Future
Taken together, this extraordinary scope of the infrastructure and development activity currently taking place marks a transformative stage in the city's growth. The downtown Montreal landscape is in the midst of a new development revolution and is being fundamentally changed in ways we could not have anticipated even a few short years ago. That said, the changes we are witnessing are about more than just infrastructure and real estate. They will facilitate the mobility of the city's population, generate further economic growth, and more fully integrate the way we work, live, and play. In essence, the revitalization of downtown Montreal should return the city to its rightful place as one of the most vibrant, citizen-friendly and exciting cities in North America.