Montreal's Exciting Transformation (Part 1)

Published in Espace Montréal Magazine: Volume 27 #1, April 2018

By Jean Laurin
President, Devencore

Over the past few years, a series of major initiatives have been set in motion that are completely revamping Montreal and its downtown core, and bringing the kinds of changes we haven’t seen for decades. Critical elements of the Greater Montreal area’s infrastructure are being rebuilt, downtown condo development is occurring at an unprecedented pace, and for the first time in 25 years we are seeing a number of major office developments being constructed and planned. These changes will bring us a greatly modernized city, a vibrant downtown core designed with human needs at the forefront, and an entirely reenergized corporate real estate market.

What characterizes the changes and improvements taking place is that they are being expressly designed to make the city more welcoming, efficient, and liveable. And they couldn’t come at a better time, for Montreal is well on its way to reasserting itself as one of the world’s best places to live and work.

Economic Conditions on the Upswing
Economically, the city’s economy is firing on all cylinders. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the city experienced real GDP growth of 3.2% in 2017, the greatest expansion since 2000. For 2018, the Conference Board estimates growth in the 2.0% range, and the recent decision to roll back the duties imposed on Bombardier in the US should boost the local aerospace industry. For both business and tourism there has been a resurgence of activity; as an example, traffic at the Montréal-Trudeau International airport increased by 9.5% in 2017.  
Indeed, over the past few year Montreal has emerged as Canada’s top technology hub, with the highest concentration of tech sector jobs in the country, thanks in large part to the aerospace, ICT, gaming, media and life science companies that have made Montreal their home.

In the fall of 2017, Facebook became the latest technology company to join the artificial intelligence sector in Montreal when it opened a research lab called FAIR (Facebook AI Research). Google and Microsoft had previously established operations in Montreal, and Element AI raised over US$100 million, one of the most successful venture capital fundings in the country in 2017. It is worth noting that Montreal’s AI community includes over 250 researchers ̶ one of the strongest concentrations in the world.

On the educational front, the city now has one of the strongest educational infrastructures anywhere in the world, with 11 university institutions, over 60 colleges, and 320,000 students enrolled in post-secondary programs.
Furthermore, operating costs for businesses in Montreal are among the most competitive in all or urban North America, owing to affordable office spaces, an attractive corporate effective tax rate, stable labour and energy costs, and a variety of tax credits and incentives.
These advantages have begun to exert a significant impact on Montreal’s business community. For example, in 2017, Montréal International enjoyed the most successful year in its history, helping 48 foreign companies locate or expand in the Greater Montreal area, representing $2 billion in foreign direct investment.
And, provided there is the political will, the best may be yet to come.
The Renovation of the City
The last great modernization of the city took place over 50 years ago, around the time of Expo 67, the World’s Fair that put Montreal on the international map. That’s when the first lines of the metro system, the original Champlain Bridge and Bonaventure Expressway, the Dorval (now Trudeau) International Airport as well as landmark buildings such as Place Ville Marie and Place des Arts, were built.
The major infrastructure projects currently underway are long overdue, and while they have brought with them undeniable inconveniences, they promise to bring the city fully into the 21st century.
(Bonaventure Expressway)

The projects that will have the most profound effect on the city include:
  • The Bonaventure Expressway: Fifty years after its original completion, the Bonaventure Expressway has been completely remade. The expressway ̶ which links the Champlain Bridge and downtown Montreal ̶ has been replaced by two boulevards bisected by extensive green spaces, walkways, and a striking steel sculpture by international artist Jaume Plensa. The cost of the project is $142 million.
  • The Ville Marie Expressway: A section between Hôtel-de-Ville Avenue and Sanguinet Street has been covered to add green space to the neighbourhood and integrate the Old Port with downtown Montreal. The entire project, which includes the covering of the expressway and the building of a park on top of the expressway, has a price tag of approximately $131 million.
  • The new Champlain Bridge: The $4.2 billion project for one of the main access points into the city should be completed on schedule in December 2018.
  • The Turcot Interchange: This critical interchange linking highways 15, 20 and 720 as well as the Champlain Bridge is being renovated at an estimated total cost of $3.7 billion. It accommodates over 300,00 vehicles per day and the work should be completed by the end of 2020.
REM (Réseau Express Métropolitain)
  • The REM (Réseau Express Métropolitain): Construction of the $6.3 billion light rail system, which has been in the planning stages for a number of years, is scheduled to begin in April. In its final form, it will comprise 26 stations and will extend over 67 kilometers. The builders, stations and trains for the network have now been chosen, and the first branch ̶ which will run from Brossard on the South Shore to downtown Montreal ̶ should be ready for riders in the summer of 2021. The entire network, which will replace the Deux Montagnes train line to the north and will run to the West Island and Trudeau airport, should be completed by 2023.
  • Also recently underway is the makeover of Ste-Catherine Street between Atwater Avenue and Bleury Street, a multi-faceted construction project that may take up to three years to finish.

Office Market in Midst of New Development Cycle
In tandem with these infrastructure renovations, downtown Montreal’s office market is also being transformed...
Click here to read Part 2 >>
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