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Rendering of redevelopment of CF Fairview Pointe Claire mall. CF is planning to add office space, a hotel, street-level shops, rental apartments and condos in a massive mixed-used development.Handout

Montreal’s new light-rail transit system is set to change the landscape of the city’s commercial real estate market, according to industry experts.

While Montreal’s office sector is softening because of COVID-19, according to data from CBRE – a reflection of most major cities across the country – Jacinthe Lachapelle, sales and client strategy analyst for CBRE in Montreal, says a project such as the redevelopment of CF Fairview Pointe Claire mall and other transit-oriented developments are a positive sign of things to come.

“It’s certainly bullish, but it’s definitely justified,” Ms. Lachapelle says of the overall feeling in the city, owing to the new Cadillac Fairview (CF) project. “The densification of our West Island market is definitely a good thing.”

CBRE’s recently released third-quarter market data show the overall vacancy rate in Montreal increased more than 11 per cent from the first quarter. The findings show the city’s downtown office market has been markedly affected, as many of Montreal’s biggest companies opened satellite offices in the suburbs this year. While the suburban vacancy rate has also increased, it was a percentage point less than downtown.

The CF project in Pointe Claire is just one of the transit-oriented developments in the works: There are two in South Shore (Solar Uniquartier and Quartier Dix30, which are facing each other with a transit station in the middle) and another in Laval (Espace Montmorency).

The Fairview Mall in Pointe Claire, just west of the Montreal suburb of Dorval, has been in operation for more than 55 years. With nearly 20 hectares of land adjacent to the mall lying empty, CF is planning to add office space, a hotel, street-level shops, rental apartments and condos in a massive mixed-used development.

Jeroen Henrich, CF’s vice-president of development for its eastern portfolio, said in an interview with Retail Insider earlier this year that construction is under way, with completion of the five-million-square-foot project expected in the next five years. Phase 1 is focused on transforming the former Sears into a Simons department store, which will be the anchor tenant of the new facility. Offices will be built in Phase 2.

The land, which was originally earmarked for John Abbott College, now settled in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, sat vacant until CF acquired it in 2013. The vision of the overall project was originally shared with the City of Pointe Claire the same year.

During a session at the Montreal Real Estate Forum – held online in early October – Brian Salpeter, CF’s senior vice-president of development for Eastern Canada, said the company acquired the land at a price-point of “more than $5 per square foot.” He did not give a full cost.

Since the mall was built in 1965, Point Claire, about 35 minutes from Old Montreal, has evolved from farmland to a bustling suburb. The project is ambitiously being classified as a “new downtown” by the developer.

“It’s an opportunity not just to create a community,” Mr. Henrich told the Montreal Gazette in October, “but to build on the community we already have.”

The Shops at Don Mills, a CF development north of Toronto’s downtown, serves as an inspiration. Although it cannot be accessed by subway, three separate bus routes flow through the centre, which features an outdoor mall, movie theatre, restaurants, offices and a courtyard area.

Ms. Lachapelle says, while the West Island’s office market is struggling right now, the combination of the LRT and the first foray by CF in Pointe Claire has gotten things moving in the right direction as more companies are predicted to move out of the downtown area to smaller facilities.

“[It’s] going to be a great thing for us,” she says. “It’s going to be bringing in more work force. We need that type of project.”

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