By Sergio Martinez
Let’s see if that’s true: the Quebec government bought the site for 200 million in 2007 after a failed UQAM project left there an unfinished building, then this summer it sold most of the site for 45 million. This week Premier Pauline Marois announced that her government will invest 246 million in the construction of an addition to the Îlot Voyageur project, a new building that would house the offices of Revenue Quebec.
The projected building will be located where the intercity bus terminal used to be on the north-east corner of Berri and de Maisonneuve Blvd. and just south of the new terminal (the Gare d’Autocars de Montréal). The new complex would have two main towers, seven and 14-storey high respectively. It is calculated that once completed in 2019 around 2,500 Revenue Quebec employees presently dispersed in about a dozen rented spaces would be relocated to the new premises.
The construction of the new government complex was greeted with enthusiasm by the new mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre who said that the project “will create a synergy in downtown Montreal,” he was also happy for the 200 jobs that the initiative will create.
Let’s leave out for now some questions that may immediately arise when a government that must soon be facing an election is making this type of spending announcements, especially if one considers that in Montreal the PQ is weaker than in the rest of the province. Mme. Marois would like to change that and showing generosity may help her get the objective she is seeking, namely a majority government. On the other hand Montrealers are certainly in need of jobs, and the area around the former bus terminal is now a sort of no-man land that would welcome some development.
However it may not be so clear that a bureaucratic complex is what the neighbourhood needs. In fact, the area that is known as the Latin Quarter which is roughly located between Saint Denis on the west, Saint Hubert on the east, Ontario on the north and Sainte Catherine on the south has have a few changes of vocation in recent years. The UQAM presence gives it an academic tone to the area, mixed with a strong gastronomic and tourist-oriented flavor especially on St. Denis, however at one point there was the intention to make it a cultural hub, the late former premier René Levesque even broke the ground for what was supposed to be the concert hall for the OSM in what is now the Emilie Gamelin square, then the Cinemathèque Québécoise located on de Maisonneuve as well, and until last year the NFB had its small movie theatres and customer service on St. Denis and de Maisonneuve. Of course the building of the Grande Bibliothèque on the corner of Berri and de Maisonneuve reinforced both, the academic and the cultural character of the neighbourhood. Now the dominant presence that the new Revenue Quebec complex is going to have would probably produce a different impact on an area which many people think is in more need of residential space than government offices. In strictly business terms the government would have probably made a better investment by selling that piece of land at market value for a new condo and then buy office space in the downtown core. This however would have been less likely since the announced project is also consistent with an implicit intention that various nationalist authorities have had at different times: “to move downtown farther east.” By locating a very important agency in that sector of the city they may also be attempting to advance toward that other objective. And for that— it seems—the cost is irrelevant.