Thursday, 10 July 2008

Grand Plans for Montreal: Griffintown and le Quartier de Spéctacles Raise Questions about How to Do It and How Not To

Montreal’s mayor Gérald Tremblay appeared jubilant yesterday when he helped unveil plans for the first phase a new entertainment quarter—almost as jubilant as my friend who lives in Griffintown. Their good humour comes from very different things, however.

Tremblay announced that “new symbol of Montreal's role as a great cultural centre" will be kicked off next year in time for the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Jazz Festival. It consists of a big plaza which can be used for outdoor concerts across from Place des Arts, whose five concert halls and art museum are currently the core of the district. Some might say that Tremblay’s joy is an attempt to put a good face on a difficult situation, however. Plans to add a new hall dedicated to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra—talked about since Place des Arts opened in 1963—received a shock last week. A public-private partnership has seen estimated construction costs jump from $105 million to $266 million largely because the parking garage on which the hall will be built must be reinforced, Le Devoir reported.

My friend’s enthusiasm stems from some news which might also make Tremblay frown. He rents a loft in a building that is supposed to be expropriated to make way for massive redevelopment of the former industrial area down the hill and about two kilometers away from Place de Arts. Eviction notices were supposed to be sent out last month, but he and his fellow tenants have received nothing. “The developer is having trouble getting financing together,” he crowed. “Maybe it’s not going to fly after all.”

His take on the situation was partially corroborated by another story in Le Devoir saying that the city will put off sending eviction notices until September: before then Devimco, the developer, must present the city with guarantees for the $65 million needed to pay for the expropriated property. The money is there, Devimco told Le Devoir, although the newspaper notes that architects have not yet been hired either.

The development of the entertainment district—le Quartier de spéctacles—and of Griffintown are both examples of thinking big about how a city should evolve. A great deal can be said for grand plans when it comes to installations that will be used by many. Place des Arts has been a big, popular success: its plaza welcomes crowds of a couple of hundred thousand regularly for outdoor events while its halls are constantly full. Adding to that is an appropriate exercise of city leadership and resources.

Grand plans like the Griffintown one are much more questionable. If Devimco’s plans fall apart and the area is allowed to redevelop at a slower pace as it had begun to do, the city would be a lot better off.

This is a classic Baron Haussmann-Jane Jacobs confrontation, and I’ll write more about that later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post here, it's rare to read on Griffintown these days, but there is still much to say - thanks.

I am also an owner in Griffintown, who was slated to be expropriated in May, but who hasn't received any notices either. The word on the street here is that Devimco has lost the financing they had announced as having during the "consultations". Moreover, their project has been rejected for financing by many other major firms and funds since. This leaves Devimco with no money but a whole bunch of signed and conditional agreements to purchase. Even though they own nothing in Griffintown yet, Devimco has convinced the majority of owners here that they should sell to them by a certain date, thus making them kick out their tenants and consequent revenues from rent.

You mention that if Devimco's plan falls apart, the city would be better off, but this is not entirely true because the majority of businesses which have been forced out of Griffintown have already rented spaces in other areas, leaving their old neighborhood quasi-abandoned.

So, apparently, Griffintown is set to fall apart either way.