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Luxury Montreal condos take an ecclesiastical bent

New projects play off the ornate architecture of former religious buildings

1420 Boulevard Mont-Royal, Montreal, is the former mother house and convent of the Soeurs des Saints Noms de Jésus et Marie congregation.

Nestled on the wooded northern flank of Mount Royal, a new condo development slowly taking shape comes with the usual amenities for a property in the luxury category: high ceilings, swimming pools, spa, indoor garage, concierge service. But this particular edifice also boasts two unique features: a refurbished chapel complete with frescoed apse and an indoor urban farm.

The property, 1420 Boulevard Mont-Royal, is the former mother house and convent of the Soeurs des Saints Noms de Jésus et Marie (Sisters of the Holy Names) congregation. The capacious chapel, the nuns' spiritual gathering place for prayer and meditation, will become a venue for events such as weddings and concerts once the repurposed building and its 165 or so condo units opens in the summer of 2020.

The chapel is being repurposed as an event space.

The chapel – a replica of the interior of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome – has been deconsecrated and its altar, pews and religious artifacts removed. But the stunning fresco depicting the coronation of Mary, by Italian-born religious artist Guido Nincheri, remains. It's a permanent reminder of the religious heritage of the edifice, built in 1925 on former farmland and sport hunting grounds in the prosperous enclave of Outremont.

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In stark contrast to this nod to the past, other development plans for the Beaux-Arts-style building call for construction of an indoor city farm to grow fresh produce year-round in a large space in one of the building's wings. The vertically stacked hydroponic installation won't require any daylight to grow the food, relying instead on high-performance LED lighting from local company Luxaz, 1420's sales director Sabine Karsenti said.

The produce will help supply an on-site bistro also being planned for the complex; any extra food will be sold to condo owners, Ms. Karsenti said.

For the developer of the site – Daniel Revah of Corev Immobilier Inc. – it's critical to go all out to make your project as attractive as possible in Montreal's expanding and very competitive luxe condo market. The highly desirable Mount-Royal area alone counts two other rival projects.

The developer of 1420 emphasizes the importance of making your project as attractive as possible to stand out in an increasingly competitive Montreal luxury market.

Just a 20-minute walk down the hill from 1420, also on the mountain's flank in Outremont, promoter Demonfort Inc. is renovating the 1939 mother house and convent of the Soeurs missionaires de l'Immaculée Conception. It's a more modest iteration than 1420, with 68 condo units planned.

On the mountain's southwest flank, in the historic Golden Square Mile near the downtown, Cato Development's M sur la montagne is a gated community with extensive private garden and two separate buildings, one of which is the 1895 former philosophy seminary of the Sulpician Fathers. The promoter touts the "elegance of the past" of the property on its website. Total number of units is about 100.

Mr. Revah says he's confident that 1420's uniqueness, rich heritage and location are big selling points for his development. "The building itself is majestic. When I walked into that chapel, I knew I wanted to do this project," he said.

Some units will have rooftop terraces looking over the northern part of the city.

An added element he's counting on to seduce customers is the fact that buyers get "made-to-measure" units in terms of size, layout, finishes and other elements. There will be "townhouse" condos available on two floors, terraces or rooftop patios and views towards the mountain at the back, in the direction of the northern part of the city – and beyond – in front, and facing the courtyard garden.

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One buyer has opted for a monster 7,000-square-foot residence made up of two merged condos on the penthouse level in the rear section of the building, Ms. Karsenti said.

While most of the interior will be stripped, the central staircase, brown-brick-and-limestone façade and other elements will be preserved, she said.

Unit prices at 1420 range from $500 per square foot to $1,100.

Total cost of the project is about $200-million.

Prices for the condo units range from $500 a square foot to $1,100.

So far, about 25 per cent of the units have been sold, according to Ms. Karsenti.

Contrary to what some might infer, most of the interest so far in 1420 is not coming from older couples in retirement mode who are downsizing, but from young couples, families and individuals, Ms. Karsenti said. Nor is it a place that attracts foreign or short-term investors; it's for putting down roots, she said.

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Direct access to hiking trails going up to the mountain are an added plus, she said.

The sales director says interest in 1420’s units are coming from young, local people, not foreign investors or retirees.

Marketed as "Outremont on the mountain," 1420 is the culmination of a series of – at times acrimonious – events stretching all the way back to 2003. That's when the Université de Montréal, whose sprawling campus abuts the former convent, bought the building and property from the shrinking, aging congregation as part of its expansion plans. The nuns agreed to sell it to the university for a modest sum and turned down higher-priced rival offers from property developers largely because the university promised to maintain the mother house's calling as a teaching institution.

After spending about $25-million in preliminary renovation work, the university authorities decided the costs for transforming the structure into a new campus facility would be prohibitive; they also had expansion plans at another site in Outremont. The property was sold in 2008 for $28-million to a real estate promoter with luxe-condo plans. That deal collapsed in 2013 amid corruption allegations involving the developer.

An opposition group – Rassemblement pour la sauvegarde du 1420, Mont-Royal – mounted a legal battle to restore the building's original institutional zoning classification in order to prevent its conversion to residential use, though their efforts were ultimately not successful.

Buyers get ‘made-to-measure’ units in terms of size, layout, finishes and other elements.

The opponents argued that the convent should be protected as part of the "collective heritage" on this section of Mount Royal, for the benefit of all citizens and with the aim of maintaining the institutional-only vocation of the area.

The left-leaning Projet Montréal municipal party, at the time in opposition. but now in power at City Hall, argued at a 2009 public hearing that the university was betraying its role as a teaching institution by becoming an active player in the property development business. Projet Montréal even took a swipe at 1420's potential as a real estate development, saying the windows are too small and that it's a poor site for residences given its lack of southern exposure.

The university pressed on, finding a new buyer – developer Oliver Leclerc of Gestion M&O – in 2016. Mr. Leclerc was joined by Mr. Revah of Corev, but Mr. Leclerc was bought out last year after a falling out between the two promoters.

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