Urban development news of the day: the former Montreal Children’s Hospital building at Cabot Square has been sold to real estate developer Luc Poirier for an undisclosed sum. The MUHC’s asking price, as reported a few months back, was about $45 million, though neither Poirier or the MUHC would confirm the value of the transaction (which is odd given that we’re talking about a public building and everyone’s talking a good game these days about transparency… but I digress).
Luc Poirier also won’t specify exactly what he has in mind for the site, though he hinted strongly at a baseball stadium. Apparently he has an important meeting this week with someone of significance vis-a-vis the much bandied about plan to return professional baseball to the city.
Now before we get ahead of ourselves, nothing is set in stone. The deal won’t be official for another three months, at which time the public will be told how much the hospital sold for. Poirier has no specific plan for the site. Inasmuch as he indicated he believes it’s an ideal site for a downtown ballpark, he remains open to myriad other potential uses. He offered condos, offices or a seniors residence as possibilities. That being said, his plan involves demolishing the six buildings that comprise the hospital complex, as he believes the buildings are insufficient as is for housing.
As to a professional baseball stadium, Poirier was very candid in stating a new ballpark would require not only demolishing the hospital buildings, but further would require expropriating at least some of the streets and public spaces (i.e. the newly renovated Cabot Square and Place Hector-Toe-Blake and Place Henri-Dunant) that surround the hospital complex.
Ergo, not only does the public lose institutional space in the form of a hospital, but further loses three parks. Cabot Square just received a $6.3 million renovation, paid for by the city. If Poirier’s plan for a baseball stadium gets the green light, it would not only waste that sum but further require extensive city involvement, consuming public tax dollars for a private interest.
Assume the new ballpark would occupy the grounds of the former Children’s Hospital, the three aforementioned parks and public spaces, as well as Sussex, Hope, Tupper and Lambert Closse streets. The city would have to plan for the loss of those side streets, not to mention re-locate the bus terminus co-located at Cabot Square. If you thought there wasn’t enough parking in downtown Montreal to begin with, imagine the loss of those parking on those streets compounding additional parking requirements on game days.
Even if Poirier plans for an extensive excavation of the land to build a massive underground parking garage to compensate for parking demands, building a ballpark on this site will still require additional roadwork on Atwater, Sainte-Catherine and René-Lévesque to accommodate higher traffic loads. I can’t imagine how the city could this and also somehow make Sainte-Catherine more pedestrian friendly simultaneously.
A major advantage of course would be that this location would provide immediate access to Atwater Métro station, which would in all likelihood help mitigate traffic congestion (though by no means would it eliminate it). Atwater is an ideal Métro station because it was designed from the outset as a high-capacity inter-modal transit station (Bus/Métro) adjacent to a major sporting and performance venue (the Forum). But we could count on congestion there too. If the exhibition games at the Olympic Stadium over the past two years were any indication, the Green Line would slow down considerably on game days (though this would be mitigated at least in part with people opting to disembark either at Lionel-Groulx or Guy-Concordia). All told, it’s not a bad location strictly in terms in terms of access to public transit infrastructure.
But the project’s various public costs can’t be overlooked simply because the stadium will be Métro station adjacent.
My major concern is the immediate effect a stadium will have on residential and retail rents in the Shaughnessy Village area. My fear is that commercial rents will rise very quickly, forcing out small businesses and replacing them with theme restaurants, high-capacity sports bars (à la Sergakis) and tacky souvenir stands. Residential rents will also rise, eventually leading property owners to convert their properties into condominium towers, which in turn would likely force out many residents.
The latest word is that the city is not keen on Mr. Poirier’s plan.
Richard Bergeron, formerly the leader of Projet Montréal and now Coderre’s right-hand man on all aspects of downtown redevelopment, said he’s not in favour and that the city is not ready to sacrifice public spaces and streets for a ballpark.
Bergeron also noted that the Children’s Hospital site, though promoted by Ernst & Young in their feasibility study, is not the first choice for the Montreal Baseball Project, which in turn prefers the Peel Basin.
Bergeron also stated that yet another site had been pitched to City Hall – that of Maison Radio-Canada’s extensive parking lot. Bergeron suggested the western lot, which runs between René Lévesque Boulevard and the Ville Marie Expressway along Wolfe. The eastern lot is much larger, but might not be as feasible simply as a result of congestion on Papineau (police operate the traffic lights manually on much of Papineau throughout the day).
All that being said, this proposal makes much more sense to me. For one, no expropriations of public space nor demolitions of any heritage structures; the lots currently constitute empty space. A ballpark at this location would still require excavations and a significant underground parking facility, but wouldn’t ‘spill over’ into the surrounding streets such as it would over at the Children’s. Even though this would also be a small-sized ballpark, there could be some integration with Maison Radio-Canada, such as incorporating seating atop the complex’s westernmost studios, if extra space is required.
Other benefits of this location: adjacent to established entertainment districts (i.e. Gay Village, Old Montreal) though not immediately next door. Four Métro stations within a five minute walk, including the Berri-UQAM, not to mention highway and bridge access. Fringe benefits: CBC/Radio-Canada and Molson gets free advertising.
All that being said, I’m anxious to find out who Mr. Poirier was supposed to meet with and what those discussions lead to.