Corner Saint-Laurent and De Maisonneuve. On one side, a sleek, brand-new 26-story black tower. On the other, an old boarded up garage whose parking has been condemned for ages, in the heart of Montreal.
Saint-Laurent Boulevard has been surfing on a major wave of real estate investment in recent years, creating an increasingly striking contrast between prestigious projects and abandoned buildings or downright vacant land.
The observers of the Hand are torn between their fondness for the thoroughfare’s inherently variegated character and their resentment towards property speculators who leave their properties fallow.
“Like Saint-Laurent, it’s really the place where different realities meet in Montreal, it’s normal that it’s formed in patchwork “, explained Robert Beaudry, responsible for urban planning at the City of Montreal.
However, “we cannot accept a patchwork of [terrains] built and unbuilt. It is necessary to support the filling of the hollow teeth in one way or another, whether by green spaces or by constructions”.
“It’s not inevitable,” he added. Speculators who wait with folded arms, “it is clear that there are fewer and fewer of them”.
Mr. Beaudry was speaking in an interview with The Press in a café on boulevard Saint-Laurent, very close to boulevard De Maisonneuve.
Two hundred meters to the north, a large vacant lot stands out against the landscape. Its owner, the organization Grande Mosquée – Montréal, did not want to reveal to The Press what he intended to do with it. Opposite, commercial buildings that do not look like much – some for sale – and another vacant lot, in the heart of the city. Going up the boulevard, you can see a few vacant lots or used for parking, but also a lot of disused buildings in poor condition.
“A very strategic location”
On the other hand, many projects are emerging these days.
One of the worst warts on the boulevard, the former Les Katacombes bar, Ontario corner, is about to give way to a student tower. The Press obtained the first architectural renderings of the project of the Work Unit for the establishment of student housing (UTILE), which could reach 13 floors and house 168 housing units, if authorized by the City.
“It’s a very strategic location for building student accommodation because the Hand straddles the Latin Quarter and the Quartier des Spectacles. For different reasons, these are two neighborhoods where the student presence is important,” explained Laurent Levesque, general manager of UTILE in a telephone interview. “It’s important that it remains a special street in Montreal. It’s a street with a lot of history and it’s important that it remains a young and dynamic district. »
Other projects have already emerged from the ground.
The Laurent & Clark, a set of two towers at the corner of boulevard De Maisonneuve, now overlooks the Quartier des spectacles. Montreal manufacturer Montauk Sofa’s store, between Sherbrooke and Prince-Arthur streets, has won architectural awards. Next door, a new Holocaust Museum will soon replace a parking lot. A residential complex is currently under construction on the land of the former tombstone cutter Berson & Fils. And the Department of Immigration moved to the Carré Saint-Laurent, an eight-storey building at the corner of rue Sainte-Catherine inaugurated in 2019.
Pressure on “inactive” land
In addition to vacant lots, Saint-Laurent Boulevard has many commercial premises that have been empty for years, sometimes in poor condition.
The vacancy rate for commercial premises on the boulevard, between Sherbrooke Street and Laurier Avenue, is 12%, said Tasha Morizio, general manager of the commercial development company that covers this section.
More worrying, in his opinion: a third of these vacant premises are “inactive”, with owners completely absent or who do not want to put their premises up for rent. These are premises “which are not on the market”.
Saint-Laurent Boulevard “has always been an artery of clashes “, she added, specifying however that she prefers contrasts of vocation, communities or types of buildings to contrasts in the state of the buildings. “I always encourage property owners to take care of their building. »
The City of Montreal is also preparing to crack down on negligent owners.
“It’s a concern: we know that when it’s disused, it creates a feeling of insecurity, it reduces street activity, etc., notes Robert Beaudry. It takes more pressure to develop them. We are coming up with regulations at the beginning of the year, we are working on regulations on buildings left vacant to have a little more bite, to put more pressure on the owners. »
A previous version of this text indicated that the territory of the commercial development company headed by Tasha Morizio extends from Ontario Street to Mont-Royal Avenue. Its territory rather corresponds to the section that goes from rue Sherboroke to avenue Laurier.