The Public Consultation Bureau of Montreal has finally released their report and recommendations following the deposition of over 30 memoirs and a petition about the Quadrilatère Saint-Laurent project.
The commission had the tricky task of weighing a $167-million dollar, 12-storey real-estate development against a wealth of history, stories and spirit that define Montreal’s historic Main.
Their conclusion: slow down. Give the architectural concept time to ripen. Rethink the way the new building would integrate into the the historic neighbourhood and animate the corner of Saint-Laurent and Ste-Catherine. A development in the core of our city – and the heart of our urban mythology – is too important to botch with tight deadlines and cut corners.
The report enumerates the many concerns that have been expressed about the project:
- A building dedicated to office space and “socially-responsible commerce” will not animate Saint-Laurent and Ste-Catherine around the clock, leaving a hole in the heart of the entertainment district at night.
- The usage proposed would not maintain the cultural diversity that is currently found on the Lower Main (A couple memoirs pointed out that the plans would actually snuff out 4 venues – Cafe Cleopatra, Katacombs, Les Saints and Opera – in order erect a tower mostly consacrated to office space.)
- The 12-storey building could create a wind tunnel and would leave the eastern side of the street in shadows for most of the day (According to Montreal’s urban plan, the maximum building height for this block is 5 stories, but the city has already approved exceptions for the Quadrilatère and 2-22 Ste-Catherine).
- The plan to integrate the facades of centennial buildings into the office tower fails to do justice to a site of “exceptional heritage value,” and proposed building would dwarf the Monument National.
The spirit of the place.
“…les récits et les pièces, les personnalités célèbres et infâmes, les événements qui se sont produits sur ce lieu, ou dans sa proximité, sont le tissu même de cette narration que nous appelons la « Main ».”
The OPCM recognized that this project has elicited such a strong and passionate reaction from many Montrealers because it would tranform a place that is at the core of our city’s identity. The historic buildings that would be razed for this project, were once the cradle of the over-the-top, anything-goes spirit that still characterizes Montreal. Lower Saint-Laurent may not currently attract the crowds of revellers that it did decades ago, but it still holds a revered place in our collective imaginations.
The OPCM would require the developer to document and present the site’s colourful history within the new project. But beyond that the report stressed the importance of maintaining the cultural activities and atmosphere that have defined this place. The report says that preserving heritage must go beyond projecting the centenial architecture, to embrace the way in which buildings were traditionally used and occupied on the Main.
Given these sound reflections, I find that their recommendation kind of misses the mark: they ask for two floors of commercial space instead of one in the 12-storey building.
“La commission considère que l’animation continue des lieux le jour et le soir ainsi que l’intégration des activités culturelles et socio-communautaires et documentaires sur au moins deux étages complets de l’édifice, apparaissent comme des conditions critiques et sine qua non pour conserver l’ambiance qui a marqué le site et son histoire, assurer la convivialité des lieux à intégrer au Quartier des spectacles et desservir le quartier.”
Keep it Seedy, Montreal.
That was the National Post’s tongue-in-cheek headline when they reported that an alternative strip club, Café Cleopatra was the most vocal opponent of the Quadrilatère. But there’s more to “keeping it seedy” than holding on to a bit of the grit that makes The Main intriguing. As in any urban space, the essential thing is to create a place where a diversity of uses will be viable, where different seeds can take root. Long-term revitalization means creating a space that can accomodate a diversity of businesses, services and organizations, now and in reponse to future needs. A mall full of eco-commerces may be trendy today, but what’s the 50-year plan?
The commission insists that the Quadrilatère must maintain some of the block’s existing activities and atmosphere. Yet they don’t seem to have much hope for incorporating, rather than expropriating, the businesses that currently occupy the Lower Main (both the Montreal Pool Room and Café Cleopatra have expressed their interest in setting up shop within the Quadrilatère). Instead, the commission asks that these businesses be relocated to appropriate sites within the Quartier des Spectacles.
“L’exigence de s’assurer, d’une part, du maintien d’au moins d’une partie des activités existantes et de l’ambiance qui a marqué le site, et d’autre part, du relogement des activités non retenues dans des endroits voisins appropriés dans le Quartier des spectacles, le tout de façon à ce que la pleine panoplie des activités et de l’ambiance qui leur est associée continue de prospérer à l’avenir.”
All the same strokes, for some folks only
Bringing local artisans and eco-commerces into this development would indeed add an interesting new dimension to the neighbourhood and would appeal to a fresh demographic. But does a development with no space for late-night hotdogs or Burlesque make sense on the corner of Saint-Laurent and Ste-Catherine? And what’s the justification for replacing existing show spaces with offices and commerces within an anchor building of the Quartier des Spectacles performing arts district?
Both the developer and the City of Montreal have so far declined to comment about this report (Gazette, La Presse). But during the consultations, Yaccarini has threatened that the SDA has no “plan B” if the OPCM refused their proposal. So what now?
“Slow down” is a pretty vague recommendation. More than time, this project needs the dedication to treat a revered Montreal landmark with due respect. That’s not the kind of sensibility that can be tacked on to a project in its final stages. If, in the face of such strong criticism, this project is pushed through as is, or with only minor tweaks that fail to respond to the root concerns, it would be a clear failure for the public consultation process – and a clear statement about where the current administration’s priorities lie.
It is not clear in the OPCM report weather a second round of public consultations would be held to assess a new proposal.