This January, the Société de Développement Angus acquired two properties on Saint-Laurent and Ste-Catherine: Main Importing Grocery and building that housed Club Opera. (According to Radio Canada, it was the Montreal Pool Room rather than Club Opera that was sold. However if so it is not yet public and the city told me that this sale is supposed to be finalized in February.)
And so the only lights left on the block are from Café Cleopatra’s signs, advertising danseuses, stip-teaseuses, disco and spectacles continuels. After the owner refused the SDA’s offer, the city handed Café Cleopatra an expropriation order. The owner is contesting expropriation, a matter that could stall this project for months while waiting to be seen in court.
According to Eric Paradis, president of Save the Main, Café Cleo’s owner has accepted that he won’t stop the SDA’s $167 million Quadrilatère Saint-Laurent development. But he does wants his business to be relocated to a venue with similar conditions in a timely way (For more info, see Adam Bemma’s interview with Paradis last December).
A Complete neighbourhood.
Quebec law allows the city to expropriate a private business on behalf on another private developer when the site falls under a “projet programme particulier d’urbanisme” (PPU), in this case the Quartier des Spectacles.
Christian Lalonde, a City of Montreal Urbanist and Architect who is responsible for the Quadrilatère Saint-Laurent says that the Quartier des Spectacles was developed after public consultations held in 2002 led to a consensus that the neighbourhood needed revitalization.
“On se désolait du fait que les gens, quand ils sortait des sales de spectacles, se filait direct dans leurs voitures… Ils ne se sentaient pas en sécurité,” he said.
But the Quadrilatère plan actually eliminates 4 live shows venues and replaces them with office and retail space, hardly consistent with a purported entertainment district. Lalonde replies that the QDS aims to integrate multiple uses into the same neighbourhood: an influx of office workers will animate the street and support the local businesses. The retail space – which will specialize in “green” and local businesses – will consolidate Saint-Laurent as a commercial street. Meanwhile, the SDA has two other projects on the go which both have a more artistic vocation.
“Ce n’est pas un quartier uni-fonctionnel, c’est un quartier complet,” he says.
In the case of an expropriation, the city has offered $875,000 in compensation for the building and lot. Lalonde said that an additional amount could be negotiated for the value of the business.
This month, SDA paid $1.1 million for the grocery store. The building on the Corner of Sainte-Catherine, which recently housed Club Opera, Les Saints, Romance and ALCO sold for $10.5 million.
In December 2008, the SDA also spent $6 million purchasing 6 other buildings from Socrates Goulakis. For those who may be curious, that amount breaks down as follows:
1202-1204,Saint-Laurent (vacant) 759 000 $ CAN
1206, Saint-Laurent (Souvlaki George) 646 200 $ CAN
1210-1212, Saint-Laurent (Frites dorés)- 610 800 $ CAN
1214-1220, Saint-Laurent et 1233, rue Clark (Panhelion, Las Vegas) 1 602 000 $ CAN
1222-1228, Saint-Laurent et 1237, rue Clark (Katacombs etc) – 1 279 800 $ CAN
1190-1196, Saint-Laurent (facade/lot next to main grocery) – 1 102 200 $ CAN
Source: registre foncier Quebec.
Like many people, I have been critical of the Quadrilatère project from the start, and its purported aim to revitalize the Main while expropriating existing businesses. The development has been undemocratic from the start: there was no competition for projects, then the Executive Committee okay-ed the Quadrilatère against recommendations from their own public consultation office.
After doing business for over 30 years on this site, why shouldn’t Café Cleo be included in a revitalization plan for the area? After all, replacing gritty night life with chic boutiques and office workers dosen’t lead to “completeness”, it just imposes a new kind of uniformality. If Café Cleo can’t be accommodated within this particular development, they should be relocated at the developer’s cost. Two cabaret-style stages and a massive dressing room won’t come cheap in the downtown area but if the project refuses to be inclusive, that’s the price they should to have to pay.
I’m sympathetic to Café Cleo’s case but the worst thing we can do now is empty out this strip just to let it rot while fighting lengthy court battles.
This block is about to become unrecognizable. No matter what new life is imposed on the Lower Main, I’ll probably resent this process for the rest of my days. But new life is still better than a sorry graveyard of unremembered glory-days.
FEB 1st Addendum: interview with Cefé Cleo’s owner, John Zoumboulakis.