To most, Ste-Catherine Street is recognized as Montreal’s main commercial thoroughfare. Running through the heart of downtown, the street is lined with big brand name stores, several department stores, smaller boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. A number of establishments even have multiple locations along the strip. Lying directly below, as an extension of the activity above, exists a significant portion of the Underground City. Though often bustling with people, Ste-Catherine Street competes with large shopping complexes that have emerged off the island, like Quartier Dix30 on the South Shore, and the Ste Dorothée MegaCentre in Laval.
As expected from Montreal’s notoriously dismal infrastructure, major repair work to the street's sewers and pipes is needed. The work is set to begin in 2016 and is to be completed over two phases between Bleury Street and Atwater Avenue. Together, with this major overhaul, Mayor Denis Coderre had also intended to revitalize the surface of Ste-Catherine Street. With the city’s upcoming 375th anniversary celebration, reimagining the street’s presence, character, and functionality in the heart of downtown Montreal is essential for the thoroughfare's continued success.
Though the public has responded enthusiastically to future changes, this news isn’t welcome to everybody. Merchants along the street are concerned, particularly when thinking back to similar work that took place in 2007 on St. Laurent Boulevard, also known as The Main. Infrastructural repairs compromised many of the street’s small businesses and resulted in closures. Now shop owners on Ste-Catherine’s are worried the same fate might befall them.
Nevertheless, in December 2013, the city held a bid for private firms to handle the public consultation process of the redesign project. Out of twelve interested parties, the contract was awarded in March to the Acertys firm by the city’s department of infrastructure, transport and environment. In June, they began their project, allowing people to present their ideas and suggestions towards the street’s improvement.
By October, however, the city canceled their $267,000 consultation contract with the firm after it was flagged by the inspector general’s office as being “highly problematic.” This office was set up by the mayor himself to help curb corruption with Denis Gallant, hired to keep tabs on the city’s work contracts. Despite pursuing four out of the five phases of consultation, Acertys states it was necessary for the contract to end out of respect for all stakeholders involved and for the good of the project.
The analysis of the consultation results to date reveal several topics that have garnered a lot of focus, addressing the street’s character and ambience, public transportation, parking, and its possible pedestrianization. Discussion forums were opened on the project’s website to collect further opinions on various ideas. Four design options were also presented: a two-way street, enlarged sidewalks, maximized sidewalks, and multifunctional spaces along the street. So far, however, no firm conclusions have been reached over future plans towards the street’s urban redevelopment.
Unfazed by this hiccup, the city is set to host a design competition this year to see temporary installations pieces liven up the street during its construction period.
With a redevelopment project of this scale, it seems the city is trying its best to carry out its plans in a highly participatory manner. It is also admirable that officials altered its course of action at the sign of corruption. Though Ste-Catherine Street is due for an update to better accommodate consumers and other users, it remains to be seen how construction is handled and its effects on businesses.
If a major street in your city has been completely revamped, how was it successfully or unsuccessfully achieved? Has recent construction caused small businesses to close in your community? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.