The Future of the Olympic Stadium

What if this was the view from a condo tower? Would that sell?

There were public consultations held last weekend to discuss what ought to be done with the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately I was both occupying Montréal and otherwise unaware the guided tours of the building that were part of the consultations, and so was unable to go myself. Regardless, if you’d like to participate in the online discussion and complete a survey, click here.

So what are we to do with our beloved and excessively expensive Big O?

I, for one, do not and have never supported any plans to demolish it, despite the popularity of such a flippant suggestion.

First of all, it’s paid for. If it had a regular tenant, such as a professional sports team that could guarantee high attendance, the costs of maintenance moving forward will pale in comparison to the revenue generated through use of the stadium. Use begets more use, and a return to the days when the Big O was also a prime location for rock concerts, conventions and congresses will come naturally as long as there is a primary draw. General usage was considerably higher when the Expos were popular and drawing large crowds. Moreover, we know with certainty that major league sports and concert venues can have a positive local influence and stimulate further economic growth in the area immediately surrounding the site. The area around the Montreal Forum has yet to recover from the loss of stimuli that went with the move to the Bell Centre, as has the area around the Big O. By contrast, the area around the Bell Centre is starting to show signs of improvement and may very well (for better or for worse) become a focal point for new development in the Central Business District (CBD).

Second; there’s nothing wrong with the facilities, the buildings or the infrastructure – it’s what’s around the Olympic Park which is partially the problem. Consider this: the City of Montréal has been concentrating recreational and leisure activities along Sherbrooke East between Pie-IX and Viau since the creation of the Montréal Botanical Gardens in the 1930s. Now, add to that impressive attraction the Olympic Stadium and Tower, the Insectarium, Biodome, Maurice Richard Arena, the new Planetarium, Saputo Stadium, Chateau Dufresne, the Olympic Pool, a municipal golf course, the Olympic Village, Maisonneuve Park and a multiplex cinema to boot. Just adjacent to the area bounded by Assomption, Pie-IX, Rosemont and Hochelaga Blvds is the Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital complex and CEGEPs Rosemont and Maisonneuve. This area is further served by three stations on the Green Line of the Métro. Ergo, when asked what I would do to help secure a bright and prosperous future for the Olympic Stadium I would say ‘consider what hasn’t been centralized here’ – it’s what’s missing that is the key.

I think the answer is principally transit and residential accommodation. With so much to offer there are scarcely any hotels in the area, no high-rise apartments taking advantage of the breath-taking views, no condominiums taking advantage of the latter in addition to the supremely well-connected location, and no commercial office space. Instead of banging our heads against the wall wondering why we didn’t bring the stadiums closer to the city, why not bring more of the city out to the stadium? With so much concentrated at this point, why isn’t the entirety of the Olympic Complex not viewed as the Eastern Gateway to the City of Montreal and ‘regional service centre’ for the Eastern core of Montréal? The space from Papineau to Assomption could stand to use increased densification along principle arteries, such as St-Joseph, Rachel, Ontario, Hochelaga, Pierre-de-Coubertin and Sherbrooke. A combination of new medium-income apartment towers and high-income condo towers lining these streets will help establish a visual link with the denser core of the urban centre and require a re-evaluation of land use in the sector bound by Dickson and Pie-IX extending South from Rosemont Boulevard to the river. By increasing population density the demand for additional community cultural and social services grows proportionally, and thus new schools, libraries, CLSCs etc will have to be built, likely occupying space otherwise zoned for light industrial activity.

This sector is lousy with old industrial spaces which no longer provide the societal anchor they once did. The industry can be consolidated in more opportune locations and the space better utilized to support a significant increase in the local population. Moreover, increasing the population while simultaneously diversifying social and cultural groups in the same area will help ‘even-out’ the neighbourhood, and provide numerous additional possibilities for small businesses and local services. So while old warehouses are turned into condo towers and elementary schools, additional social and civic services can be concentrated at the Olympic Site – there’s a lot of open space here, I can imagine space for a CLSC or library or a really kick-ass kindergarten can be worked into its master plan. The point is, build up the population significantly, and then focus that population’s attention on the Big O as a kind of meta civic centre.

To see a bird’s eye perspective of the Olympic Park and environs, click here.

Increasing population density isn’t enough by itself – types of residential housing must remain diverse and new opportunities for small businesses must be created. But on top of that, some key alterations to the urban tapestry will become necessary, specifically with regards to the quadrilaterals bounded by Pierre-de-Coubertin, Bennett, Ontario and Latourneaux in addition to the one bounded by Sherbrooke, Dickson, Hochelaga and Viau. Both of these areas are principally industrial. The former could be re-designed so as to allow for a new public plaza running between the Stadium and the Maisonneuve Market with large capacity residential and commercial buildings built along its edge. I would recommend a similar plan for the latter as well – after all, what’s centralization if it isn’t apparent to anyone that there’s a centre to speak of?

Aside from a generally massive increase to population density in this sector and (by extension) an effort to better equip this sector with necessary social services, improvements to transit would further allow the area to become a more self-sustaining tourism destination. Large underground parking garages need to be built around the site to support increased tourism from within the metropolitan area, and by extension, a new Réso expansion designed to link key facilities with new residential and commercial developments in the area could also do much to help draw residents to a new community centre focused on the Olympic Park site. In other words, if it was once the dream of Mayor Drapeau to encourage urban development towards the East, we need to ask ourselves what would make the Olympic Park area seem to be part of a larger urban whole. Consider the two plans for Métro extensions in this article – both involve the placement of a new multi-line station under the Olympic Stadium (the plan to have a Pie-IX metro line has been quite popular over the years, and there’s a definite need to improve Métro access East of the CBD).

In any event, I think I covered all the bases – securing a proud and profitable future for the Big O is almost thoroughly dependent on a City plan to completely overhaul the HLM sector and instigate a kind of gentrification that would encourage a new socio-economic diversity in the area, provide better services for families and further turn it into an outward-facing urban focal point.

But if you want to get more people out there on the cheap, perhaps the short-term, inexpensive solution is simply to re-build Corridart in a new form, linking the CBD with the Olympic Park by means of an outdoor art-gallery erected along Sherbrooke Street.

Suffice it to say, this is more than just a potential election issue – the citizens must make their voices heard.

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