Two teams of developers working independently but each benefiting from the other’s parallel vision are poised to give the city of Laval, Que. a major shot in the arm with significant project investments totalling close to $700 million.
For the two major players, there is one single piece of infrastructure — the Montmorency subway stop, completed in 2007 just off Le Corbusier Boulevard at the end of a three-station system extension, giving Laval a new link to Montreal to the south — that they point to as an important catalyst as they planned their respective residential and mixed-use projects.
"The growth started to happen when the subway happened," housing developer Sebastien Lessard of Urbania 2 explained during a site visit in December. Sales for his first phase, now referred to as Urbania 1, were limping along for four years until the subway stop was completed a few hundred metres away.
Demand took off and he revised Urbania 1 from 330 units to 750. Now Lessard and his partner the Fonds immobilier de solidarité FTQ have unveiled the second phase of medium- and high-density residences that could grow to as many as six buildings, including two topping out at 32 and 28 storeys, with a total of 1,150 condos and some retail units representing an investment of $270 million.
"People are getting tired of going bumper to bumper into town," said Lessard. "Some customers decided it was better to live next to a subway stop."
On the next lot, the Montoni Groupe is partnering with the developer Claridge — representing the Bronfmans — and the Fonds FTQ on Espace Montmorency, a $420-million project that will consist of 10 buildings of up to 20 storeys each with offices, shops, a hotel, entertainment venues and significant public spaces. This new "city within a city," as the developers are calling it, was announced in November.
"We had other office buildings that we put up, along highway 15 and other areas, but there is no greater attraction than being next to the Metro," said Mike Jager, director of business development for Montoni.
"We have multinationals being represented by brokerage firms who are including our property in their search requirements. In the past they would never have included Laval. If they were looking for a Montreal head office or a regional satellite office it would have been limited to Montreal.It’s a true TOD project, transit-oriented development."
Demand for the various components of Espace Montmorency is strong enough, Jager said, that the partners might put shovels in the ground for the first phase — potentially including offices and retail, a three-storey parking structure, a hotel and a major gym — before the end of 2016, ahead of the original 2017 timeline.
The two developers point to other amenities in the area that will further complement their projects including a new arena complex, the Carrefour Laval shopping centre — the province’s largest — and several educational institutions including a University of Montreal campus and a CEGEP.
Place Bell is a $120-million multipurpose facility currently under construction across from the Montmorency station that will include a 10,000-seat main arena/amphitheatre, a 2,500-seat Olympic-sized rink and a third recreational ice rink. The city and the province are the two major investors and the firm Evenko will run the main arena; project completion is targeted for the fall of 2017.
Architecturally, the big attention-getter among the projects will be the avant-garde, Sid Lee Architecture-designed Espace Montmorency buildings and open spaces featuring an assembly of glass cubes and raised terraces. The Journal Metro called the design "Habitat 67 on Steroids," recalling Moshe Safdie’s landmark Expo 67 project.
It is estimated that 3,500 construction jobs will be created at Espace Montmorency over five years of construction. The partners will be seeking LEED Gold certification, Jager said.
Lessard, meanwhile, is focused on building homes that are affordable to potential subway users.
There will be a broad mix of unit sizes, from penthouse suites right down to micro-units measuring 350 square feet, the latter selling "very well," he says, starting at $137,000.
The construction team is in house, while Lessard will retain the services of Giasson Farragut of Laval, the phase 1 designer, for Urbania 2. The Urbania 2 build is expected to create 340 jobs, Lessard says. He talks about meetings he has had with representatives of Montoni, the city of Laval and the Fonds FTQ at which they all share their plans.
The Fonds FTQ is the "moteur economique" that originally amassed the land near the subway stop, said Lessard, while the City of Laval through its agency Laval Technopole has also been a driving force in encouraging development. "Mr. Montoni specializes in office buildings, I specialize in condos. Our relationship is, you do what you do best. Both needs will feed one another."