Montreal unveils 'ambitious' plan to rejuvenate downtown area

The City of Montreal wants to persuade 50,000 more people to live downtown by 2030.

Opening up the waterfront, developing green space, transforming abandoned buildings among ideas

Montreal Mayor Coderre, accompanied by Richard Bergeron, who is in charge of the downtown strategy on Montreal's executive committee, outline plans for revitalizing the city's urban core on Wednesday. (CBC)

The City of Montreal is hoping to persuade 50,000 more people to live downtown by 2030.

That is one of the ideas in a long-term plan to rejuvenate the downtown area that city officials are describing as "ambitious."

Mayor Denis Coderre and Richard Bergeron, the executive committee member in charge of the downtown strategy, presented their 15-year plan this morning.

"Today it's no longer countries that compete with each other, but rather cities and their surrounding economic regions," Coderre said.

"In large cities, the downtown core is the place where the community shows itself to the world."

A man walks on de la Commune Street in Montreal June 4, 2016. (CBC)

The city wants to attract more seniors, young people and families to downtown, partially by opening more schools.

Other ideas in the plan include:

  • Opening up the waterfront and connecting it to downtown, which Coderre acknowledged would require the transfer of control of the Old Port from Ottawa to the City of Montreal.
  • Developing more green space and bike paths.
  • Revamping Ste-Catherine Street.
  • Turning defunct public buildings and sites, including the Montreal Children's Hospital building and Voyageur bus terminal, into mixed-use developments while preserving their heritage value.

The city did not provide estimates on how much it will cost to make the plan a reality.

How to attract families?

When asked where families could live in Montreal, Coderre didn't offer many specifics but said the city would have to make sure there are public services – great transport, schools and parks – that families need in order to woo them.

He said economic development can't happen without better living conditions.

The situation in Griffintown, where homes are either too small or too expensive for many families, is an example of poor planning, Coderre said.

"One of the reasons we have a strategy is because we want to provide tools to make sure we don't make the same mistakes," he said.

He said, for example, the project to replace a stretch of the Bonaventure Expressway with an urban boulevard will bring more green space to the area.

Work to convert the Bonaventure Expressway into an urban boulevard started in 2015. (

He said housing has to be affordable and that the city would need to work on meeting the needs for social housing.

Time to open up the waterfront

Coderre cited Toronto, Barcelona and San Francisco as cities that have done a good job of developing access to their waterfronts.

Bergeron's vision of what the 20-kilometre stretch between the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain Bridges would look like includes half dedicated to public space, such as parks, and the other half for development, so people can live on the waterfront.

Visitors can lounge, but not swim, at the Clock Tower Beach in the Old Port. The city wants to create more opportunities for Montrealers to enjoy the waterfront. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Bergeron said after years of residents asking for more access to the St. Lawrence, it's time to oblige.

"We have a great opportunity to highlight the river," he said.

Noble goals, but will city deliver?

Valérie Plante is a Projet Montréal city councillor for the Sainte-Marie district, which is in the eastern end of downtown.

She said while the plans' objectives are "noble," she's not convinced they will come to fruition.

"I would have loved … to have more concrete objectives so we could have expectations," she said, adding she believes the lack of detail may have been a way for the Coderre administration to avoid getting tied down to following a specific plan.

She pointed out that while the new light rail project will help bring people into the city, the Coderre administration hasn't announced much about how to help people who already live in Montreal.

The STM's new AZUR cars can hold more passengers than the old cars, but will they help ease overcrowding? (STM)

"What about the people living downtown? They're stuck in the metro, there's no space for them. What are we creating for them?" she asked.

"I'm excited about having 50,000 new residents in downtown Montreal, but I'm definitely worried about how they're going to circulate, how they're going to have a quality of life in terms of parks, in terms of housing, which is so expensive for a family right now," Plante said.

Similar plans previously announced

In March 2015, Coderre unveiled a city-wide plan to spruce up the waterfront. That proposal included creating a swimming area at the Clock Tower in the Old Port.

Coderre also announced plans for a new and improved Ste-Catherine Street in May 2015, including reduced speed limits, fewer parking spots, free Wi-Fi and heated sidewalks.

It's not yet clear how the strategy announced Wednesday is tied to the previously announced projects.

Public consultations on the plan begin this fall and an action plan is expected by winter 2017.

with files from Steve Rukavina and Kalina Laframboise