What can be done to fill Montreal's empty storefronts? City hall plans to find out

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has asked the city's economic and urban development commission to look into the problem this fall, with a report to be made public in December.

Valérie Plante's administration to hold consultations to look for solutions to high vacancy rates

Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood is among those dealing with a rise of vacant commercial buildings. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante wants to find ways to address the unsightly empty storefronts that are plaguing the city's commercial arteries. 

Her administration has asked the city's economic and urban development commission to look into the high vacancy rates this fall, with a report to be made public in December. 

The city will then hold public consultations in January 2020.

At a news conference Monday, Plante said every street and neighbourhood faces its own challenges when it comes to ensuring commercial space is rented out.

She rejected the idea there was a quick-fix solution to the vacancy-rate problem. 

"Some of the local business streets in Montreal are doing well; some not so well," Plante said. "It's not a one-fit-for-all solution. We need to put all the right people around the table."

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The vacancy rate is between 10 and 15 per cent on commercial streets in Montreal, according to figures provided by the city.

She said several factors have led to the increase in vacancies, including rising rents, real estate speculation and the rise of online shopping.

Business owner welcomes consultation

At least one business owner welcomed the measures announced Monday. 

Anne-Marie Laflamme, co-founder of Atelier B, a clothing boutique on St-Laurent Boulevard in the Mile End, said many businesses in the neighbourhood have been forced to close because of rent increases. 

"We are lucky because we have great landlords. I think that's the only reason we're still here," Laflamme said. 

Anne-Marie Laflamme is the co-founder of Atelier B, a boutique on St-Laurent Boulevard in the Mile End.  (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

She encouraged the city to take steps to curb gentrification. "If [the neighbourhood] becomes only vacants and chains it will not be interesting for anyone," Laflamme said. 

Plante defended the city's go-slow approach toward the problem, saying it will take time to listen to the concerns of merchants and identify the best solutions available.

"It pays off. We're not acting like we're the experts, like we know what to do," Plante said.

With files from CBC's Jaela Bernstien