News  Demolition of lower St. Laurent on hold

Café Cleopatra fights City expropriation and eco-friendly office project

Plans for the redevelopment of St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine have paused while local strip club Café Cleopatra challenges a City-ordered expropriation in court.

Café Cleopatra is the last occupied building on the western side of St. Laurent between Ste. Catherine and René Lévesque, where the Societé de developpement Angus (SDA) is slated to build a 12-storey office tower – the Quadrilatère St. Laurent – to house Hydro-Québec offices as well as green, sustainable retail space.

Since Café Cleopatra’s October 2009 notice of expropriation, SDA has acquired the block’s remaining buildings, including Main Importing, the oldest Middle Eastern grocers in Canada, and the Montreal Pool Room, a hot dog restaurant. However, the court case has paused the demolition of the block, which was scheduled to begin on January 1.

While the outcome of Café Cleopatra’s case remains unclear, Viviane Namasté, a professor at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute and member of the Save the Main coalition, which works for the preservation of lower St. Laurent, said it could determine the future of SDA’s project.

“[The case] could put some wrenches in the plans and there are some strong legal arguments to be made against the expropriation,” Namasté said.

Éric Paradis, president of Save the Main, runs “Club Sin,” a long running, popular fetish event at Café Cleopatra. He questioned the logic of constructing the Quadrilatère St. Laurent, which has been promoted as an eco-friendly redesign of the street.

“Our city disregards counterculture. They don’t give a damn. They’d rather have a 12-storey office tower…. It’s alternative art being given the boot,” Paradis said.

Café Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis has also been an open critic of the way the City handled the redevelopment plan. He pointed out that no open bid was held for the redevelopment. Rather, Montreal Mayor Gerard Tremblay’s administration approached SDA privately before presenting the plans to the public.

“It’s a puzzle why Angus was given so many projects without any public consultations or open bids,” Zoumboulakis said.

Public consultations were held by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) in May 2009, but some activists, local businesses, and urban planning experts felt that its recommendations were not implemented.

Namasté felt that many recommendations made during the OCPM consultations did not go “far enough,” though they did caution the City to take more time with the redevelopment project.

“The City, in my view, didn’t decide to slow down,” Namasté said. “When they decided to send a notice of expropriation to Café Cleopatra, that had to be voted on at municipal council. But they didn’t have at that point a clear mock-up of what the project would be.”