Is the Montreal Forum slowly dying?
Montreal Forum – It was one of the most iconic buildings in all of Montreal, home to the Montreal Canadiens from 1926 to 1996 when the team moved to the Bell Centre. In 1998 the Montreal Forum underwent a conversion from a sports arena into a mixed compound containing various shops, the largest cinema complex in the city, and some other facilities. The Montreal Forum renovated building opened at the beginning of this century and was renamed the Pepsi Forum.
However, things don’t seem to go well for the venerable site these days, at least not on the main floor which is usually an indicator of the vitality of a place. And the truth is that the Forum doesn’t look very much alive, which is unfortunate since it is a landmark in the west end of downtown that deserves better. The renovations paid tribute to the old arena in the form of a replica of a field’s section, and the preservation of a small part of the grandstand featuring the statue of a hockey fan. The AMC Cinema, purchased by Cineplex in 2012 is the only venue—apart from repertory theatres like Cinèma du Parc and Beaubien—that shows movies from places other than Hollywood. Then, there were the stores: Future Shop was there, Restaurant Angelina too, some other small stores, and Pekarna, that charming café selling exquisite pastry that used to be near the Sainte Catherine entrance. All of them are gone now, and soon a major commercial tenant is leaving: the SAQ outlet that occupies a large space between Lambert Closse and the central lobby of the Forum has announced it is moving to the non-descript condo tower recently built across the street at the south-east corner of Sainte-Catherine and Lambert Closse.
With many commercial places now empty one starts to wonder whether there is a future for the Forum. It could well suffer the same fate of the Faubourg Ste. Catherine, just a few blocks east whose interior is now completely disfigured having become a depressing place to visit. Worse yet: some even fear that the Forum may just close down. Some year ago when it ceased to be an arena, there were indeed suggestions to demolish it (real estate developers were drooling at the prospect of making big money with another massive condo project) although some more “green” (and naïve) proponents wanted to convert it into a park. Both were rather idiotic ideas soon dismissed. Besides, the old Forum was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997 because “it was arguably the country’s most famous sporting venue… it also serves as an icon for the role of hockey in Canada’s national culture… the Forum is the oldest of Canada’s large-scale arenas and has, throughout its history, been the country’s leading site for major indoor cultural, political and religious events.” This distinction should give it some protection, one hopes.
In the meantime, the Forum is kept alive by the 22 movie theatres, a gym, some rooms that are rented to Dawson College, the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s and just a few other tenants that don’t seem to bring many people to the place. Of course, having the Alexis Nihon Shopping Centre just across Atwater Ave. makes things harder for stores located in the Forum, besides, for some reason when the renovations were done nobody thought of connecting it to the metro which could have made stores located in the Forum more accessible. The place is now owned by the New York-based real estate investor Ben Ashkenazy through his company Investissements Forum Canadien Inc, and we don’t know whether there would be a real commitment to keep the place open if it happens not to be a profitable venture anymore. In any case, if worse come to worse and the Forum is no more in its present form, it would be another big loss for Montreal.