Montreal, Part Trois
Day 3 in Montreal began the Mixed-Use Planning Seminar in full. We met in the Hotel Nelligan lobby in the morning and were divided into our planning teams. We were told to come up with a team name and learn something about our fellow teammates. The War Beavers, as we have called ourselves, is a diverse group of folks, including a developer, an urban design planner, a transportation expert, a new urbanist, a residential real-estate sales guy, a retail leasing expert, an investment banker, and myself, the arts guy. After some introductory history of Montreal, we were led on a tour of Old Montreal by Ryan Bloom, the Live Work Learn Play leasing director. Old Montreal is an incredible downtown revitalization story. As recently as 15 years ago, the district was all but abandoned, but has now emerged as the tourist mecca of Montreal. It’s hard to believe that the city would ever let this part of the city fall into such disrepair, considering it is the oldest, most storied part of the city. Even on Monday morning, the district was buzzing with activity. We saw some very old, beautiful buildings, many of which have been re-purposed into mixed-use structures, with retail or restaurants on the ground floor, and residential above. Public spaces have clearly been a priority, as many promenades and plazas were heavily populated with tourists and locals alike. Below are some pics form the tour.
After lunch at brew-pub in a pedestrian only restaurant in Old Montreal, we returned the hotel to resume the seminar. We began a role-playing game in which each team represented a different stakeholder in a fictional proposal to turn the Marché Bonsecours, which was the central market of Old Montreal for 200 years, into a an entertainment complex complete with a movie theatre, an arcade, a casino, and a “gentleman’s club.” As a theatre guy, I was very impressed by the attendees’ commitment to the role-playing exercise. We had some faux French-speaking city officials, some very creative club proprietors, and much more. int eh end, the proposal failed (shocker), but it was an important lesson in the kind of broad support that any urban developer must secure for any project.
The crux of the next two days will be each team working on a mixed-use redevelopment of a different section of Old Montreal. Our team was assigned the Cité Multimédia, an area that has been defined by the predominance of high-tech design companies. It is in stark contrast to the rest of Old Montreal because it is largely lifeless, with empty streets with little or no retail or restaurant activity. Some of the buildings are brand new construction, but most are dilapidated structures like the one pictured below.
After a tour of our district, we came back to the hotel to talk about our impressions and to begin to brainstorm solutions to activating the area. Then off to another excellent group dinner at Le Cartet on Rue McGill, more great conversation, and now… to bed.