In Montreal’s Sud-Ouest borough, the Côte-St-Paul town hall has stood witness to the city’s rich history. The iconic 3½-storey, city-owned building at de l’Église Ave. and Angers St. in the Sud-Ouest borough has a remarkable architectural gem designed by famous engineer and architect Joseph-Émile Vanier in 1910. Despite its immense historical importance, this splendid edifice has remained vacant for almost a decade, and the fact has now compelled the City of Montreal to take decisive action. Mayor Valérie Plante’s administration has recently launched the Impacte program, with the aim of breathing new life into this abandoned treasure. And, very surprisingly, the town hall is up for sale at an astonishingly low price of $1, but the journey towards its restoration is obviously filled with challenges.
Offering the town hall for a mere $1 to any prospective buyer willing to restore and preserve it, the city’s noble intentions are met with challenges. As heritage experts commend the initiative, the question remains: will there be a taker?
One of the major obstacles lies in the financial burden of restoration. The call for proposals stipulates that the buyer must invest a minimum of $3 million within 48 months of the sale, with at least at least $2 million to ensure the integrity and security of the envelope, including the masonry walls, doors and windows, while the other $1 million is at the discretion of the buyer.
A 2021 report that investigated the building’s condition revealed the existence of asbestos, lead, and mold contamination. In addition, the facade, which features elements of Georgian architecture, is in need of repair and restoration, with particular attention to preserving its heritage characteristics.
While community organizations express interest in acquiring and restoring the town hall, financial constraints loom large. The community lacks the necessary resources to undertake such a massive restoration project. Even if they were to acquire the building, the cost of refurbishment proves forbidding.
Assia Kada, co-ordinator of the community organization Concertation Ville-Émard/Côte-Saint-Paul, said her group and private citizens were keen to acquire and restore the building. But the investment required is forbidding, she said.
“We would have liked to acquire the building to provide space for community groups, including us. We don’t have a community centre in the district,” montrealgazette.com quoted Kada as saying.
The city’s restriction on residential conversion further limits potential interest. Developers, prohibited from transforming the building into residential property, may be deterred from investing in the project. Instead, the city encourages low-density commercial and institutional uses, such as bookstores, artists’ studios, medical clinics, museums, community centers, and specialized trade schools. However, incorporating permanent or occasional social spaces for citizens or community groups is strongly desired by the city.
Despite the challenges, the Impacte program presents an innovative attempt to preserve heritage. But critics argue that the city’s neglect of its heritage properties in the past undermines its current efforts. Dinu Bumbaru, policy director of Heritage Montreal, agreed that the city has no one to blame but itself.
He added that the program might be seen as the city trying to wash its hands of its neglected heritage properties and “send to others the problems it didn’t care to solve itself.”
While the $1 price tag is symbolic of the city’s commitment to the project, the burden of financing falls on the successful bidder, who must seek subsidies from the Quebec and federal governments. Consequently, the city’s lack of a comprehensive real estate strategy comes into question.
To ensure the success of the Impacte program and the preservation of Montreal’s historical gems, stakeholders seem to have expected a better, more proactive approach. Establishing a fund to support and guide groups willing to take over neglected heritage properties could, for example, encourage community involvement and protect the city’s cultural heritage.
As the extended deadline approaches, all eyes are on the fate of the Côte-St-Paul town hall. The city must consider a more comprehensive approach to preserving its heritage, ensuring that this architectural treasure finds a passionate and capable patron to breathe new life into its storied walls. Only then can Montreal truly live up to its status as a guardian of its historical legacy.