City holding events, hiring guides as tourists navigate Ste-Catherine's 'rat maze' of construction

Plante is urging the hundreds of businesses eligible for compensation to apply, as access to shops in the area is made more difficult by the construction. But some say the application process is not so easy.

Major work under Ste-Catherine Street West continues all summer

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante toured the construction site on Ste-Catherine Street West on Tuesday. Major work is being done this summer on the commercial artery. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Mayor Valerie Plante is telling Montrealers and tourists alike that Ste-Catherine Street West is open for business this summer, despite the torn-up road and maze of fencing.

Major work is being done below the commercial artery that is home to popular shopping destinations, including the Eaton Centre and the Hudson's Bay Company.

The city is replacing century-old water pipes and widening sidewalks. Gas lines, power lines and telecommunication cables are also being installed.

Plante said she is "extremely satisfied" with the work so far. Almost 40 per cent of the first phase of infrastructure work has been completed, according to city officials. 

The stretch of road between Bleury Street and Robert-Bourassa Boulevard will be completed by the fall of 2020, Plante said Tuesday.

In the meantime, she is urging the hundreds of businesses eligible for compensation to apply. To date, only one business has done so, Plante said.

"It's their life; it's their business, so that I do understand," she said of the impact the work has on local businesses.

Paul Boileau, owner of a souvenir shop at the corner of Ste-Catherine and City Councillors streets, says that business is slower this month than in previous years.

He says that the process to apply for compensation from the city takes a long time, since it calculates losses by comparing a business's profits over their whole financial year.

Paul Boileau says business is down this month at his souvenir shop on the corner of Ste-Catherine and City Councillors streets. (CBC)

"If it takes too much time, it's not useful," said Boileau, who has owned Souvenir l'Ours Blanc for six years.

The city has set aside $25 million to compensate businesses affected by the construction project, and each business can get up to $30,000 per year.

Boileau said he hopes the Grand Prix and other festivals that get underway next month will help business pick up.

Virtual assistant, city employees to help guide tourists

During Grand Prix weekend, Union Avenue will be temporarily paved to help with the flow of traffic.

Representatives for Destination Centre-Ville, which promotes businesses downtown, are also around to tell people how to make their way though the area.

Century-old water pipes are among what's being replaced under the street. (CBC)

Various events are being put on by the city in Phillips Square and in the underground city to help attract people to the area.

Robert McGuire, who works for Destination Centre-Ville, calls the fencing a "rat maze" but says they'll be able to handle the influx of tourists this summer making their way through downtown.

He said his organization's biggest concern is the Canadian Grand Prix, when Formula One fans flock downtown once racing is done for the day at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

While it may be a little chaotic, he said that he and his fellow guides are ready to help visitors and keep storefronts clean.

There will also be a valet service to make things easier for those driving into the city centre. And a virtual guide, named Cath, is available via smartphone to help tourists find out what is happening in the area.

With files from Sudha Krishnan


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