- The City of Montreal has announced ambitious plans to revitalize the struggling rue St-Denis, once a thriving commercial thoroughfare.
- Better bike access and less vehicular traffic are among the plans.
The hard times that have befallen merchants who are located along rue Saint-Denis in the Plateau-Mont-Royal are evident to anyone who walks along the street. This week, the City of Montreal launched consultations and has identified some key issues that if left unchecked will spell the end for the potential of rue Saint-Denis. To avoid this, Luc Rabouin, borough mayor of Plateau-Mont-Royal and Kriss Naveteur, interim director of the Société de développement commercial rue Saint-Denis (SDC), outlined a plan for the total revitalization of the street by the end of 2020.
According to a recent report, business owners on Saint-Denis have all but accepted that the once-thriving commercial thoroughfare is dead.
With one in five ground-level storefronts sitting empty, it's hard for many merchants to be hopeful about the future of their business.
Luc Rabouin and his partners at SDC and City Hall, however, see rue Saint-Denis as an incredible opportunity. Rabouin, his partners, and others are facing these challenges head-on.
According to an official press release, "the city has put forward several actions, including the financing of the Action Plan to revive rue Saint-Denis in the amount of more than $1 million, and the reduction of the tax burden on small businesses by 12.5% on the first $625,000."
"We are at 19% vacancy, which is a good sign," said Rabouin at a press conference on Wednesday. "We've modified some zoning that will simplify the rules for merchants and bars to open businesses."
The hundreds of "à louer" signs on rue Saint-Denis are a far-too-real reminder that the street is going through difficult times.
According to reports, the vacancy rate on rue Saint-Denis peaked at almost 23%-26% in 2019.
"[The Action Plan] will help maintain the momentum of this street, where 50 new businesses opened their doors in 2019 and the occupancy rate rose to 81%," continued Rabouin.
To attract businesses, the Plateau-Mont-Royal will hold public consultations and will commence a recruitment campaign to attract a wide variety of merchants to the street.
A twelve-step action plan will be underway as soon as possible. Rabouin and his partners at the SDC are hoping that it will all be finished by the end of 2020.
Some of the key points in the Action Plan include the development of a Réseau Express Vélo (REV), lowering business taxes, and developing housing along with boosting the street's economy.
"The REV is planned for this year. We are working closely with the SDC to assure everything goes smoothly. We are closing two traffic lanes, which is something very positive," says Rabouin.
"If you walk on Saint-Denis right now, it's very noisy and it's not very interesting, with a lot of closed businesses. We think it will help the street and will bring in a lot of new people. We have to be sure to attract these people to our local shops and we believe the REV will help that."
One of the key players in the revitalization of rue Saint-Denis is MTRPL, a local real-estate developer.
MTRPL's co-founder, Bryan Spatzner, said that "we're excited to be a part of rejuvenating the city as best we can. We're big believers in working with the city on all our projects."
"It's a very political issue, for obvious reasons, but we believe that the urban fabric of the city is for everyone to share. The fewer barriers there are to new businesses opening up, the better it is for everyone."
"Rue Saint-Denis has certainly experienced its fair share of hard times, we believe it's on the up-and-up and we're excited to be a part of it," said Spatzner.
"Rue Saint-Denis is a very accessible location," declared Rabouin.
"There are three metro stations along Saint-Denis, so we can have 'destination shops' and plenty of other businesses to attract people here. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of businesses we can attract to the neighbourhood."
A common sight on rue Saint-Denis: empty storefronts and almost zero pedestrian traffic.
Rabouin also addressed concerns about the legality of Airbnb and what the rue Saint-Denis Action Plan means for residents living there.
"Airbnb is legal on rue Saint-Denis, which is one of the few streets in Montreal where we allow them to operate," he said.
"If you're already living here, you are protected by the lease. But where we have empty spaces, it could be residential or it could be commercial. We'll have to see what the best options are."
The complete revitalization of rue Saint-Denis will begin as soon as possible. There's no concrete timeline, but Rabouin and his partners hope that Saint-Denis will come alive once again by the end of this year.
"Not too long ago, Saint-Denis was one of the busiest streets in Montreal and all kinds of people were here," recalled Rabouin.
"We hope that Saint-Denis will be vibrant once again."