Montreal’s future depends on commercial renewal

By Tracey Arial

Montreal’s most charming retail districts are emptying out in the face of changing consumer patterns and crumbling infrastructure. A strong partnership between planners and stakeholders could reverse these trends.

We need a new paradigm for commercial development,” says Nancy Shoiry, director of Montreal’s land-use development department. “Planning restrictions should offer more flexibility to help landlords make better use of their empty properties. Measures such as subsidies to maintain and renovate commercial buildings or to help start-up businesses are essential.”

Shoiry says that Montreal’s downtown commercial streets are defined by a distinctive attractive character that could play a crucial role in a future retail branding exercise to reinforce competitive advantages. Right now, their positive qualities are hurt by a lack of accessibility, ongoing urban infrastructure works and limited parking in comparison with newer options in suburbia.

As suburban neighbourhoods in Montreal have rapidly urbanized, they’ve attracted even more families away from the downtown core. Montreal’s sustainability goals have also been hurt as car-dependent commercial centers compete with those on urban transit lines. Meanwhile, both lose out as more people shop on-line.

Shoiry says there are lots of opportunities to turn these trends around if planning authorities work in partnership with business and property owners, consumers and the marketplace itself.

The city can be committed to helping these stakeholders, but to work in a partnership approach, we must share our knowledge of the ever-evolving economic and social dynamics,” she says. “Local stakeholders are best-placed to know what makes a commercial street thrive.”

Note: This report appears on page 27 of the Spring 2014 issue of Canadian Real Estate Magazine.

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