Merchants worry Ontario St. overhaul will be tough on business

Merchants on Valois and Ontario streets in Montreal's east end are concerned the city's upcoming 16-month road renovation project is going to going to be bad for business — draining the popular shopping district of customers.

Renovations will mostly be focused on a section between Nicolet St. and Bourbonnière Ave.

The Promenade Ontario in Montreal's east end will have an all-new look by the summer of 2020, but some merchants worry the construction project will be bad for business. (Montreal)

Merchants on Montreal's bustling Ontario Street East are concerned the city's upcoming 16-month road renovation project is going to going to be bad for business.

Two weeks ago, merchants learned that renovations, including the expansion of Place Simon-Valois and area pedestrian spaces, would include more than a year of work in front of their stores.

"It was like a bomb!" said Daniel Malo, owner of the butcher shop Beau-Bien, of learning of the plans to tear up and rebuild the street in front of his shop.

Talks of the project have been brewing for about a year, but Daniel Malo criticized the lack of consultation with local merchants. Ontario Street is lined with restaurants, pharmacies, clothing stores, bars, coffee shops and more. 

"When they summon us, it's more to alert us," he said.

"We had no choice, really. We listened. We looked at their beautiful models, their drawings. We have no weight. I did not see anyone happy, that's for sure."

Less parking also a concern, merchant says

Renovations will mostly be focused on a section between Nicolet Street and Bourbonnière Avenue.

Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Mayor Pierre Lessard-Blais said he has listened to the merchants' grumblings, but he says their minds will change once the project is complete.

"I understand very well the concerns of merchants," he said.
"At the same time, not only will this add safety for pedestrians, but it will also make the street much more attractive to them."

Merchants who lose money because of the work may request financial compensation, the city says. The first 15 per cent loss will not be reimbursed, but those who will have suffered more work will be able to receive up to $30,000 a year.

Jimmy Vigneux, director of the local merchants' association, believes that the Place Simon-Valois will be valued after the work and that the surrounding businesses will benefit. However, he did not expect the job to last so long.

Ontario Street is lined with shops and entertainment. Large-scale, long-term street renovation projects in Montreal have a history of wreaking havoc on local business. (CBC)

Learning the project would be 16 months instead of four or five was shocking, he said.

"Surely we were surprised by the magnitude of the work," he said.

"It is very interesting because it will have a positive impact on the neighbourhood in the medium term. But it's the duration that surprised us." 

Water mains, electric lines need renovation

The water mains under Ontario Street dates back to 1892 and the city is eager to replace them while upgrading electrical infrastructure — the decision to renovate electric is what prolonged the project, said Vigneux.

Integrating electric work into the project will kill two birds with one stone, preventing future street closures, the city says.

This project, which includes the expansion ​​Place Simon-Valois, is inspired by a European concept that highlights the interaction between infrastructure users, with shared streets and spaces where several modes of transportation co-exist.

It is being funded by centre city as part of its Pedestrian and Shared Street Program.

According to the city's website, the aim is to make the street more pedestrian friendly. Artwork, benches and a raised stage will be added to the area, which receives some 7,400 visitors a day.

That number jumps by several hundred when the street is closed for cultural events.

The first phase of the work, which will run from September 2019 to April 2020, concerns the electricity network. During this phase, Ontario Street will not be closed to traffic.

In the summer of 2020, the second phase, which will rebuild the two water mains on Ontario and Valois streets, will begin. According to the city, no merchant will feel the effects of the closure for seven consecutive months.

With files from Radio-Canada