Last Friday, Comité 7 à nous and the Darling Foundry signed an agreement with Groupe Mach, which will give the community groups ownership of Bâtiment 7, an abandoned train shop located in the old CN yards in Pointe-Saint-Charles.
Mark Poddubiuk, an architect who sits on the 7 à nous board, was present at the meeting with Groupe Mach on Friday. He says that Group Mach, will sell the building to the two non-profits for $1. Furthermore, the developer will decontaminate the soil and hand over $1 million towards renovating and recycling the building.
Comité 7 à nous regroups representatives from several local community groups, including the Darling Foundry, Centre Social Autogéré (the group who led this ill-fated attempt to squat an abandoned candle factory in 2009), Club Populaire des Consommateurs, Regroupement Économique et social du Sud-Ouest, Table de concertation communautaire Action-Gardien, and other local citizens. Some of the projects that the community groups have proposed for the 90,000 sq-ft building are: artists studios, a community centre, a gallery and performance space, a café, a daycare, greenhouses, and more.
Vincent Chiara, director of Groupe Mach, is a fan of contemprary art. He also needed a way to make a 32-hectare residential and industrial edevelopment palatable to a community renown for it’s strong activism (in 2006, the community successfully opposed plans to relocate the Montreal casino to the same site). In fact, Poddubiuk says, arriving at an agreement with the community about the use of Bâtiment 7 was one of the conditions set forth by the City in order to approve the developer’s proposed zoning changes.
CN sold the decommissioned train yards to Group Mach for $1 in 2006, on the condition that the developer would assume responsibility for decontaminating the site. Plans for the site include 800 new residential units, of which about 600 would be condos. The development would extend the existing street grid, and line it with duplexes, triplexes and low-rise blocks. About a third of the site would eventually be used for locomotive or other industrial re-use. The final third of the site was expropriated for AMT train repair shops (with significant monetary compensation to the developer, despite the fact that no value had been added).
While Poddubiuk is pleased with the agreement, he points out that Bâtiment 7 is in “atrocious” condition. The train shop was built in 1924 and abandoned in 2003.
“The building is a shed,” he says, “There’s no heat, no electricity, no running water.” He estimates that the project dreamt up by the various members of 7 à nous will cost $5-10 million. The architect suggests that a first step would be to put the money from Mach towards setting up rather rustic artists’ studios, and then go from there.
Poddubiuk hopes that the community of activists who fought for years to appropriate Bâtiment 7 is ready to begin the hard work of planning, building and running a community centre.
“It’s not a protest anymore,” he points out. “We’re now the developers.”