Business owners cast doubts, hope for the best this Formula E weekend

Local restaurant and hotel owners preparing for Montreal's first Formula E race are questioning how much of an economic boost it will bring their businesses.

Restaurateurs, hotel managers gear up for 1st ever electric car race in Montreal

Manager of the Saint-André Hotel, Roger Lapointe, left, says his business is very slow so far during Formula E weekend. (CBC)

Local restaurant and hotel owners preparing for Montreal's first Formula E race are questioning how much of an economic boost it will bring their businesses.

"Like everybody, we thought it would bring tons of tourists, or tons of local people, but apparently not so," said Roger Lapointe, the manager of the Saint-André Hotel, located just east of Berri Street and near the Formula E racetrack.  

This weekend is actually the slowest for the hotel since the start of the summer season. In fact, Lapointe says most of the hotel's clients weren't even aware that the race was happening until informed by staff.

"We are full every weekend, all summer long — except for this coming weekend."

The Formula E event has been staunchly defended this week by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre in the face of mounting criticism over costs, traffic woes and organization.

While businesses have raised concerns and residents have complained about having a track through their densely populated neighbourhood, Coderre drew comparisons to Expo 67 and claimed the electric car race will put Montreal on the world stage.

Mixed predictions

Restaurateurs like Shawn-Christopher Peard are simply hoping that their own investments for the race, alongside the one from the city, will pay off. 

He said construction leading up to the event has caused him headaches for his restaurant, La Diva, which faces the racetrack on René-Lévesque Boulevard — but he remains positive.

Peard added more staff and bought extra food in hopes of a profitable Formula E weekend.

"We hope it's definitely going to be busy," said Peard. "Are we sure? Not at all. We're not sure what's going to happen. No one really has any clear answers, it's their first year."

Workers put the finishing touches on the street course for the Montreal Formula ePrix all-electric auto race Thursday, July 27, 2017 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Michel Leblanc, the head of Montreal's Board of Trade, has stood by the race, claiming it has been and is continued to be welcomed by members of the business community.

"It's disruptive at the beginning, we don't know exactly how this will take shape, but next year Formula E will be a happening," Leblanc said.

But other stakeholders in the local economy like Lapointe at the Saint-André Hotel don't necessarily share Leblanc's certainty.

Lapointe says that while it's hard to compare Formula E to Grand Prix weekend, he doubts it will bring in substantial revenues for surrounding businesses.

"I don't think it has a huge economical impact as what's being said by administration, mayors and people like that," he said.

Montreal's hotel association would not comment on how many reservations have been made for Formula E tourism in the city.

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours