Breaking News: The three new buildings proposed by Société Dévelopment Angus on Boulevard Saint-Laurent will be smaller and longer in coming than originally planned, Le Devoir reported yesterday.
2-22 Sainte-Catherine, the anchor building for arts organizations in the Quartier des Spectacles has shrunk from a 12-story flashy glass-fronted design, to a 5-story brick structure which promises to be more in harmony with the local architecture. Unsurprisingly, the artists for whom this project was conceived would not have been able to afford space in the building. Since this redesign actually fits within the area’s urban plan, no further public consultations will be required.
The controversial Quadrilatère Saint-Laurent has also seen its budget cut by more than half. I have heard rumors from 2 sources that Hydro Quebec has withdrawn from the project. However in an interview with Le Devoir, SDA president Christian Yaccarini said that Hydro Quebec will remain the main tenant in the shrunken Quadrilatère. Rather, he blames Café Cleopatra for retarding the project by refusing to leave the location. The pared-back design will not surpass the Monument National.
The last, and probably best of the SDA’s developments, a cultural centre on the empty lot around metro Saint-Laurent station, is also on hold for “at least a year” (read: indefinitely). The developer has only able to find tenants for a quarter of the space. Once again, few cultural groups are able shell out for the brand new digs, despite municipal subsidies.
For people who were involved in the public consultation process, the temptation is to shout out a great big “I told you so.” Architect and author Louis Rastelli, who is involved with the Save the Main recently wrote to me:
“In short, everything everyone warned about these 3 projects has come to pass — rushed forward too soon without confirmed tenants, Hydro not likely willing to wait forever, no plan B from the developer, premature expropriation, questionable idea of putting offices in a concert district etc.”
But money talks and, perhaps ironically, lack of money has ground this project to a halt after citizen opposition was categorically ignored.
There is one contradiction that I hope does not go unnoticed here: during public consultations, we were told that the only way that these projects could be financially viable was through renting many stories of office space. Now, the cash-strapped developer is cutting back the project to something that is actually cohesive with the urban plan in terms of building height. Why was this kind of design initially portrayed as impossible when it is, in fact, not only possible but apparently cheaper? (Keeping in mind that SDA purports to be a non-profit organization).
Unless, of course, this pared-back version of the project actually is impossible, is nothing but a smoke screen to cover a a more complete retreat. Remember when, barely over a year ago, Projet Griffintown’s finances went down the tubes and developer Devimco promised a pared-back project? And then we never heard from them again? A recent writeup in Métro Montréal concludes the project is “practically dead”
We can say good riddance to Projet Griffintown because the developer actually owned very little of the property that they hoped to build upon. That’s not the case with the SDA on the Lower Main: over the past year, they snapped up all the properties they could and crushed the little life that was left on the block below Sainte-Catherine. You can bet that, with the exception of Café Cleopatra and perhaps the Montreal Pool room who have not yet finalized the sale of their property, the strip will be neglected for years to come as this gets sorted out, or doesn’t.
Now, more than ever before, it is time to get a bit more creative and “Save the Main.”
Have we finally learned that confiding a neighbourhood’s revitalization to a single developer (and without even a public bidding process) is too great a risk?
I know that, when they rubberstamp projects of this scale, city officials are not trying to win my vote. Perhaps they are seeking the support from business people, or catering to an older generation wistful for the golden years of bulldoze-and-build-it-better, Expo-style development.
If nothing else, I hope the City be burned enough to learn that bending over backwards to push through a high-profile project is, politically speaking, only a good move if you can actually deliver.