What's that large sucking sound?

The mammoth griffintown project would be larger than anyone first thought


When city hall gave its preliminary approval to the Griffintown project in November, I wrote that the $1.3-billion project was the biggest private real-estate investment in Montreal's history. But such a description hardly does justice to the plan. The more I learn about it, the more I am surprised and concerned.
Let me back up a minute.
So far, downtown Montreal has had two "poles." The first consists of Old Montreal and the area around St. Jacques St. The second pole was up the hill: Construction of Place Ville Marie in the early 1960s was an attempt to create a prestigious centre of gravity that might draw many businesses to the area. It was a remarkable success. Together with the métro, it turned a relatively sleepy commercial area into the lively hub that it is today.

Now, a third pole seems to be in the works - back down the hill in Griffintown. The project there is far bigger than Place Ville Marie: The total floor space of its planned stores, offices, theatre, two hotels and nearly 4,000 housing units is 31/2 times as great as that of the landmark office tower. Nine buildings are to have about 17 floors. One is to have 22.
And, like PVM, this project could stimulate its surroundings. The owner, Devimco Inc., says in its literature that the project will act as a "motor" for development of nearby land.
Indeed, plenty of acreage ripe for development lies to the west and, across the Lachine Canal, to the south. The accompanying main illustration, produced by Société du Havre de Montréal, an agency funded by three levels of government, shows what the area might look like in a few years.
So that's one thing I had not realized in an earlier column on the project: the extent to which the project could radically alter today's definition of downtown.
The point: This evolution is happening without adequate public discussion.
A second astonishing thing is the role of public transit.
It's well known that Mayor Gérald Tremblay has said that the city plans to build a tramway from Dorchester Square down Peel St. to the project. The line would then swing east along de la Commune St. and end at the Berri-UQàM métro station. The city has pegged the cost at $260 million; Devimco would chip in $10 million. But this is only the most modest of four - count 'em, four - transit lines.
Another is the proposed $700-million rail line that would link Central Station with Trudeau Airport and suburbs west of the airport. A planner for Devimco, Claude Marcotte of the Daniel Arbour consulting firm, told me yesterday that Devimco is proposing that this shuttle have a stop at Griffintown. All three levels of government are jointly studying the idea of this line.
As well, said Marcotte, the commuter rail line from Mont St. Hilaire that passes over the Victoria Bridge would have a stop at Griffintown.
Finally, the long-discussed new rail line from Brossard to Central Station would - if it is ever built - definitely stop at Griffintown, according to Quebec's Agence métropolitaine de transport. That agency's plan calls for building an intermodal station at the site. Ottawa is now studying Quebec's proposal to place the $1-billion line on what is now the reserved bus lane on the Champlain bridge.
The point: All this public money on transport infrastructure is great from the private investor's viewpoint. After all, Devimco's hotel guests would get easy access to the airport. The company would also be better able to attract businesses to its project by offering extraordinary commuting advantages to businesses' employees.
But where's the public interest in all this?
To be sure, the city expects the project to bring in $32 million more in taxes than the bedraggled area now contributes (although how much of this money would remain after servicing the area and paying for the new tram is unclear). But demographers predict a shrinking workforce within the next 10 years. It's worth asking, then, if it's in taxpayers' interest to spend so much of their money on creating a bigger downtown at a time when the existing downtown features crumbling infrastructure and (as recent snow clearance showed) declining services.

Also, the effect on businesses in the existing downtown is unclear.
Let me close with two other surprises.
Of all the rail lines that the might serve Griffintown, the most costly is the one from Brossard. The Agence métropolitaine de transport's plan calls for the line's terminus to be at the junction of Highways 10 and 30. That happens to be the site of the mammoth DIX30 shopping centre. It's owner: Devimco.
The point: Devimco certainly has a knack for positioning itself strategically.
And the final tidbit. A new tram line and two new commuter rail lines would require much new rolling stock. Few companies would be better able to manufacture these vehicles than Bombardier. The chairman of the board and chief executive officer of that company is Laurent Beaudoin. His family is also a major shareholder of Devimco.
The point: Wow. We can see how Beaudoin could benefit from the new pole of development in Griffintown and the many public-transit lines that might serve it.
The gain to the public as a whole is less evident.
- source

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé