By Jean Laurin, President, Newmark Knight Frank Devencore
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.
- The REM (Réseau électrique métropolitain): This driverless light rail system will link downtown Montreal, the South Shore, the North Shore, the West Island, and Montreal-Trudeau airport. The network will comprise 27 stations and 67 kilometres of double track. Once completed, it will be the fourth-largest automated transit system in the world. Construction costs are estimated at $5.9 billion. The Caisse de depot et placement du Québec has committed to providing $3.1 billion to that total; the rest will be assumed by the federal and provincial governments. Construction has not yet begun, but the initial completion date has been set for the end of 2020.
- The Turcot Interchange: The interchange is the hub for road traffic in the Montréal area connecting highways 15, 20 and 720 as well as access to the Champlain Bridge. It is being renovated at an estimated total cost of $3.7 billion and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.
- The Bonaventure Expressway: Fifty years after its original completion, the Bonaventure Expressway is being overhauled. The expressway–which links the Champlain Bridge and downtown Montreal–will be replaced by two boulevards bisected by extensive green spaces and walkways. The cost of the project is $142 million.
- The Ville Marie Expressway: A section of the expressway between Hôtel-de-Ville Avenue and Sanguinet Street is being covered in order to add green space to the area and better integrate the Old Port with downtown Montreal. The covering of the expressway is budgeted at $100 million, and the city plans to build a park on top of the expressway at a cost of approximately $31 million.
- The new terminals at the Port of Montreal: Two projects are underway, one of which is the rehabilitation of the Alexandra Pier and the cruise terminal, which is slated to be completed this year at a cost of $78 million. Phase 1 of the new Viau container terminal was completed towards the end of last year, greatly increasing the tonnage that the port can handle and testifying to the importance of Montreal as a strategic connection for container shipping in North America. A second phase is also scheduled to be built. The total project is expected to add $340 million in annual economic benefits.
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:
- Cadillac Fairview Corporation’s 26-storey, 500,000-square-foot Deloitte Tower. Situated between Windsor Station and the Bell Centre, this is the first LEED Platinum project in downtown Montreal.
- Broccolini’s L’Avenue at 1275 l’Avenue des Canadiens, a 50-storey, 590,000-square-foot mixed-use development.
Projects currently under construction include:
- Ivanhoé Cambridge and Manulife’s joint venture development at 900 de Maisonneuve West. Maison Manuvie is a 27-storey, 486,500-square-foot tower that is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
- A building extension at 444 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West for Desjardins that will address its needs for back office space, and which should be completed towards the end of this year.
Upcoming redevelopment projects:
- The Standard Life building at 1245 Sherbrooke St. West.
- Maison Alcan at 1188 Sherbrooke St. West. Purchased by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, plans are still being developed for this heritage building.
- New headquarters for the National Film Board. This 280,000-square-foot project, located in the Quartier des Spectacles, should be delivered this year.
- Ivanhoe Cambridge is working on a project to renovate the iconic Place Ville Marie Complex and more closely align it to the original vision of the world-class architect Henry N. Cobb.
- With the recent completion of the MUHC and CHUM superhospitals, a number of the older hospitals that have been vacated, such as the Royal Victoria and Montreal Children’s, are slated to be converted, the latter by the developer Devimco.
- Finally, we are seeing many industrial spaces being redeveloped for tenants in the creative sectors, and a number of boroughs just outside the traditional downtown core, from the Atwater area to the Jean Talon and Mile End districts, are attracting investors, developers and tenants.
Projects under discussion include:
- The upcoming development of a new downtown campus for HEC Montréal in a parkland setting in the heart of the business district between Beaver Hall Hill and Saint-Alexandre Street.
- Development of I’Îlot Voyageur, where the Quebec government is currently examining its options.
- A two-phase office tower project at Westcliff’s Place de la Cité Internationale in Square Victoria.
- Carbonleo’s Royalmount, a 4-million-square-foot mixed-use development at the junction of highways 15 and 40 in the Town of Mount Royal.
- There are also over a dozen downtown office projects in the pre-leasing stage, including a 288,000-square-foot development at 500 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West, an 825,000-square-foot tower at 1250 Jeanne-Mance Street, Cadillac Fairview’s two towers at 750 Peel Street comprising over 1 million square feet, an important two-phase development by Canderel and Fonds immobilier de solidarité FTQ at the corner of Ste. Catherine Street West and Bleury Street, and a potential development of a new complex fronting Phillips Square.
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:
- The St. Michel Environmental Complex–originally a quarry and garbage dump–is being transformed into the City of Montreal’s second-largest park, behind only Mount Royal. The entire project should be competed by 2023.
- The lighting of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, a $40 million project that is nearing completion.
- A natural amphitheatre for Parc Jean-Drapeau, a $70 million project slated for completion in 2019.
- Esplanade Clark in the Quartier des spectacles, which should be completed in 2019.
- Significant improvements to the urban park at Square Viger.
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.
Newmark Knight Frank Devencore is Canada’s largest corporate real estate advisor and brokerage, exclusively representing corporate, industrial and retail space users.
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