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Mile End to undergo massive redevelopment

Long-time area business owners decry lack of consultations over multi-million dollar investments

Redevelopment plans that will reshape the once-bustling garment district in Mile End are underway, and residents and workers are lashing out at the City for keeping details in the dark.

The City of Montreal and the Plateau-Mont Royal borough are spending a combined $9-million in a three-stage redevelopment effort in the St. Viateur East sector – between Henri Julien and St. Urbain, running north to the Canadian Pacific railway – slated to begin this year.

An area on St. Viateur that is currently dominated by apartments, empty lots, and warehouses is the first scheduled for a face-lift. Plans include widening the sidewalks, installing new lampposts, and burying electrical wires.

The next stage will see the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, intended to increase accessibility surrounding the Rosemont metro station. It will also extend two streets: St. Viateur and Alma.

At its monthly council meeting today, the Borough is expected to approve a $52,300 contract with Vlan Paysages, an urban planning and landscape firm hired to restructure St. Viateur between St. Laurent and Gaspé. The contract outlines the geographical plan for the project, conditions of tender, and provisions for the City’s surveillance.

While most tenants and organizations of the neighbourhood acknowledge the need for improvement in the area’s infrastructure and accessibility, they are raising serious concerns about green space, the City’s lack of communication, and the long-term viability of current residents and businesses.

Big ol’ plans

Borys Fridman, the owner of Jeans Jeans Jeans, a popular denim warehouse located in a building set to be destroyed in the extension of St. Viateur, has identified the area as a “maze” of overpasses and small one-way streets. But he said that the problems are rooted deeper than accessibility and cannot be relieved with simple monetary investments.

“What’s the purpose of spending millions of dollars? So that somebody can have St. Viateur go another block [to Henri Julien]? It’s not going to alleviate any of the issues here,” Fridman said.

St. Viateur East once supported Montreal’s extensive textile-related industry. Overwhelmed by a collection of concrete structures and deafening wind tunnels, the area has deteriorated as businesses migrated north or abroad and the bordering railway closed.

According to Daniel Casey, an urban planner and long-time observer of Mile End, the City has had its eye on the district, located in the northwest corner of the Plateau Mont-Royal borough, for several years, planning to re-establish the structures as owners leave and firms close down.

“The area does not have a high profile – partly because you can’t walk through it,” Casey said.

“But if we’re talking about revitalizing forgotten spaces you need to think about why they were forgotten in the first place.”

Mark Snyder, the Political Advisor for the Plateau-Mont Royal borough, said that the plan focuses on residential rather than commercial development.

“We’re looking to have somewhere around 11,000 extra residential units,” Snyder said.

“This area is a very unstructured area. You’ve got some residential, you’ve got some big business, big tracks and empty lots. The intention is to have something better integrated, better quality of life, and redeveloped in a major way through residential usage,” he said.

According to Casey, plans for St. Viateur break from the City’s past redevelopment schemes, which have either fused fractured areas, or focused on implementing public spaces. He claimed that the City has ignored social housing in the face of commercialization and that voices advocating green space have been muted.

Casey pointed to rumoured plans for the conversion of a park under the Rosemont overpass at Clark and Van Horne – an area now utilized by the artist-run centre DARE-DARE – into a parking lot for public works vehicles. DARE-DARE’s permit expires without renewal at the end of June.

Snyder mentioned a 181 residential unit building for seniors currently being built on Gaspé.

And the people?

As plans about the proposed future of St. Viateur East trickle into the area, uninformed residents and business owners are accusing the City of withholding information.

Fridman said that he discovered the plans to demolish his business’s building only when customers who work at nearby UbiSoft casually asked where Jeans Jeans Jeans would be relocating.

UbiSoft, a well-known gaming and entertainment company, has two offices in the area. According to Fridman, the company is located in the heart of the neighbourhood’s former industrial centre, and was partially responsible for bringing both better and higher-paying jobs to former textile workers and for the recruitment of younger workers, contributing to gentrification in the area.

Fridman learned that the City’s press conference announcing the project – of which he was unaware – was held at UbiSoft.

“It’s not like [the businesses] were involved in planning.… It was more like, ‘We’re doing this, live with it,’” Fridman said.

According to its policy on public consultation and participation, Montreal must “foster public consultation practices that are transparent, credible, effective and useful to the decision-making process.”

But Fridman alleged the consultation process did not happen.

“I’ve been here for 35 years. I’m not hidden; I’m the first thing you see [at the intersection]. You’d think the City would have come and spoken with me,” he said, adding, “There is no question that the consultations weren’t done,” he said.

However, Snyder said that the consultation process has been ongoing since 2001, when the City first presented the Plan d’urbanisme to revitalize Montreal. He cited that one-third of the borough’s $4.7-million investment budget is allocated to a “participatory budget” account, with which citizens decide what projects to take on.

The money the Borough is contributing to the project is not coming from this account.

Snyder also said that the City’s obligation was to building owners, not tenants.

Marlene Caron, the Community Development Advisor for the Plateau-Mont Royal borough, also noted that the monthly council meetings are open for the public to raise concerns. Fridman said that he has left repeated messages at the Borough’s office.

No one has returned his calls.

The long term

According to city officials, the $9-million invested into the project will be recouped through increased taxes and private investment. KPMG, an accounting firm hired by the City, estimates that up to $250-million will be generated in private real estate development.

Snyder believes current merchants and residents will remain economically viable after the increased taxes.

“There is a very strong will from [the City] that the people who are there can continue to stay there,” Snyder said, adding that it cannot guarantee such an outcome.

Fridman is skeptical, citing the drawn-out reconstruction of St. Laurent that forced several merchants out of business and other redevelopment efforts in Montreal that left residents with skyrocketing taxes.

“Their concepts and ideas are great, but in practice there are so many mistakes that happen, and the city never suffers the consequences – it’s the business owners and home owners that do.”

– with files from Jennifer Markowitz