Quartier spearheads plan to repopulate downtown
The city is keen to reverse the net flow of residents out of the city to the suburbs
Quartier des Spectacles is Montreal's splashy staging ground for everything from jazz and experimental theatre to outdoor winter festivals, contemporary art and even circus acts. Every year, millions of visitors flock to the area – site of major attractions such as the International Jazz Festival, the Maison symphonique concert hall and the spanking new dance centre, home to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It's a vibrant – and still evolving – part of the city centre enhancing Montreal's already well-established world reputation as a party-hearty, culturally savvy city.
But there's another element in the urban mix that's a key part of the Quartier's continuing transformation: residential development. The city's master plan for the one-square-kilometre sector includes a strong emphasis on encouraging downtown repopulation. The idea is to avoid becoming an entertainment district only, a neighbourhood that is little more than an "adult theme park" transformed into a ghost town once the crowds have left and the bars and restaurants shut down.
In terms of broader urban planning goals, Montreal – as most metropolitan centres – is keen on reversing the net flow of residents out of the city towards the suburbs. Using the Quartier's attractions to draw residents is a key part of that strategy.
Developers have taken the cue. The Quartier has seen several major new condominium projects go up over the past several years. Among the factors making the area attractive to promoters – besides, of course, the rich entertainment buffet on offer year-round – are its close proximity to the financial district, restaurants, shopping, iconic Mount Royal's green spaces and three universities (McGill, Concordia and Université du Québec à Montréal). Rental apartments and renovated older buildings are also part of the rapidly expanding residential mix.
"The idea is to create a place to live, to learn and have fun," says Marie Lamoureux, spokeswoman for the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, a non-profit co-ordinating group for the sector whose board of directors includes representatives from business, culture, academia, the City of Montreal and public institutions. Ensuring that noise levels are manageable is an important element in efforts to attract and retain residents in the high-density sector that literally pulsates at night during peak festival season with booming music and LED light shows.
Last year, the partnership recommended that the city "establish performance criteria for the construction or renovation of residential structures exposed to high levels of noise and street life." That issue had already been addressed in the city bylaws for the Ville-Marie borough, City of Montreal spokeswoman Anik de Repentigny said. An acoustic review as part of the approval process is required for all new residential construction in Ville-Marie, where the Quartier is located, she said. Noise mitigation measures may be imposed if noise levels are not sufficiently buffered inside, she added.
"When people decide they're going to live downtown they understand there's going to be action and noise that comes with it," said Mitchell Abrahams, president of Toronto-based real estate developer the Benvenuto Group. Earlier this year , Benvenuto delivered Le Peterson, a 34-storey, 286-unit condo tower – a high-profile addition to the city skyline thanks to its distinctive wavy balconies – located on a quiet street in the Quartier, mere minutes from the street-level action.
Noise "wasn't a major factor for us" in assessing the potential attractiveness of the location, Mr. Abrahams said. "The positives and the draws to the area – the university, the proximity to downtown offices and the amenities in the area are what drew people in the first place."
Further east, a major twin-tower condo project now under construction in the Quartier – Laurent & Clark – offers residents broad vistas of one of the larger outdoor public concert venues as well as of the Maison symphonique and the city skyline and mountain. In its sales pitch, promoter Conceptions Rachel-Julien Inc. highlights the 4th-floor common patio as a comfortable, exclusive vantage point for taking in shows on the stage directly out front. Mindful of the noise factor, the developer has put all the bedrooms at the back of the buildings, overlooking a private garden.
"We wanted to place the emphasis on the view and the balconies, all of which are on the Quartier des spectacles side, and the bedrooms in the back," said Denis Robitaille, the president and founder of Conceptions Rachel-Julien.
So far, much of the interest in Laurent & Clark has come from empty nesters, couples whose children have moved out and who are downsizing while at the same time seeking a slightly more stimulating location than that of many condos in more sedate sections of Montreal, Mr. Robitaille said.
Laurent & Clark listing prices – ranging from $320,000 plus taxes for a 650-square-foot one-bedroom to $1.7-million plus taxes for a 2,267-square-foot three-bedroom – are higher than the average prices for Montreal condos, though considerably lower than for something similar in Toronto. However, Mr. Robitaille believes condo buyers in Montreal are prepared to pay more for amenities such as proximity to the downtown and a thriving cultural scene literally at your doorstep.
"They're not Toronto prices but they're high price levels for Montreal," he said.
Benvenuto Group's Mr. Abrahams says he and his team "saw the heart of Montreal as underserved by quality condominium projects, except at the very high-end of the market, which has always found a successful niche.
"The timing, impacted by pent-up demand, seemed right to allow for larger projects to flourish and that excited us. We like to develop projects that can offer great lifestyle amenities, quality design and exciting architecture in locations that already have the transit, shopping, entertainment and other infrastructure in place to create special places to live, work and play."
Buyers of Le Peterson condo units include well-heeled out-of-towners who want a pied-à-terre in Montreal that could do double-duty as an apartment for their children while they attend university, spokesman Paul Jussaume said. Prices range from $345,000 to $1.3-million plus tax.
Land for construction of new condo towers is a rarity in the Quartier – a densely packed patch of land containing 80 venues and eight public squares and equipped to accommodate 40 festivals throughout the year – so the result is a tight condo market, Mr. Jussaume said. "There is very little supply in the area. At the same time there is high demand because of the attractiveness of the location. That's a key driver, while supply is somewhat limited."
As to the party vibe in the background: "We're up close and personal. Sure, if you're on the 28th floor and there's a show going on in the middle of July, you're going to hear it from your balcony." But that's part of the attraction, Mr. Jussaume said. "I tell clients it's la vie de quartier on steroids." At any rate, the action doesn't go on all night and residents can shut out the buzz once inside the acoustically well-insulated apartments, he added. The city has placed limits on the duration of events in the public squares. Outdoor Quartier shows are supposed to wrap up by 11 p.m., said Ms. Lamoureux. If a promoter anticipates that a show will finish later, residents – who regularly receive an email newsletter – are advised of the situation, she said. They're also informed in advance of sound checks that are scheduled to take place before a show and whether any streets will be closed to vehicle traffic during high-attendance events like the summer Jazz Festival, which bills itself as the world's largest jazz fest.
The partnership encourages input from local residents and there is a continuing dialogue with them about their concerns and what changes or improvements they would like to see, she said. Meanwhile, Le Peterson's 28th-floor outdoor climbing wall facility – bathed in red light at night – can sometimes lead to a bit of confusion for street-level partiers.
"People look up and see the climbing walls on the 28th floor glowing in red and many come to the front door and ask the concierge if it's a restaurant," Mr. Abrahams says with a laugh.