The Toronto-based Cadillac-Fairview Corporation recently announced their intention to build new condo towers and a commercial office building around the Bell Center, occupying the site of Centennial Plaza. From the looks of things, the plan would include demolishing the old Canadian Pacific accounting building on St-Antoine, a nondescript 1950s structure located between the Bell Centre and Windsor Station. Cadillac-Fairview also owns property south of Windsor Station on St-Antoine it also hopes to develop in the future.
It definitely sounds like a good idea in theory. The area is in dire need of revitalization, though the Bell Centre has always seemed to be a gigantic box obstructing any sense of place or community, and as such a leading cause of the area’s poor state. Unfortunate too, as the area should be a major junction, linking the already established Underground City to Little Burgundy, the northern edge of Griffintown and the CBD of Montreal. However, while 710 new condo units, retail space and two new office towers would likely bring new life to the sector, it may come at the cost of permanently losing the possibility of revitalizing Windsor Station as a functioning train station.
Though construction of the Bell Centre cut Windsor Station off from the CPR tracks, and the station had not been in use for over a decade when construction began in the early 1990s, the Bell Centre is hardly an established, heritage building. For more on the details of the project, click here.
Allow me to explain: the Bell Centre was constructed to replace the Montreal Forum as the Forum had simply grown too old and was no longer capable of meeting the demands of a major sports and entertainment venue. In other words, arenas are designed either to be replaced or extensively modified, but the latter option can only go so far. The Bell Centre does its job extremely well and is located in a high-traffic area, but it is already beginning to show its limitations. Acoustics are far from ideal, and this is a problem given it serves as one of a small number of high-capacity concert venues in the downtown. Capacity has pretty much been met, and its my understanding that Habs games are regularly sold-out, so it is reasonable to think that Montrealers may be flocking to new arena sometime within the next twenty years, perhaps considerably sooner. There are other locations for a high-capacity arena (personally, I think either the site of the old Canada Post sorting facility in Griffintown, or the parking-lot of the Maison Radio-Canada would be ideal), and we should consider what we’ll do with the Bell Centre once it becomes obsolete.
I recommend destroying it completely, and re-activating Windsor Station as a primary urban train station with VIA, Amtrak and AMT service. Unfortunately, it seems as though Cadillac-Fairview and the AMT have no interest in seeing Windsor Station used as an actual train station. Andy Riga writes about this issue somewhat pessimistically on his blog, Metropolitan News.
The question as far as I see it is why the city doesn’t seem to be involved in determining how train stations are used, and what role they play in determining new development. Why is it that the real-estate speculators and developers come up with the plans? Shouldn’t the city be making the proposals, calling for tenders and such?
I’d like to see this development take place south of St-Antoine, between Peel and Mountain – there’s ample land available and several derelict and/or abandoned buildings. This kind of development would be ideal for this area, and as far as I know, it seems Cadillac-Fairview already owns the land. But building condo and office towers around a hockey rink that may already be obsolescent seems idiotic to me.
I think this city needs a more proactive planning agency – otherwise, as plans like this demonstrate, we may be creating more problems for ourselves and our future city.