Place Ville Marie – inaugurated in 1962 as the “Eiffel Tower of Montreal” – is almost fully occupied today, generating $25 million a year in tax revenue as the city’s largest account.
At $50 gross per square foot, its office rents are among the 10 highest in the city. The complex, where 10,000 people work, is valued at an estimated $700 million.
On Thursday, even as building management, city officials and several corporate tenants unveiled a series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Place Ville Marie, some industry observers pointed to the complex as a design and development success in a city tarnished by crumbling infrastructure.
“Imagine that Place Ville Marie was completed about the same time as the Champlain Bridge,” said well-known Montreal real estate executive Stephen Leopold. “One stands as a landmark to excellence and makes us all proud. The other one (the bridge), barely standing, is an embarrassment. Imagine what the Champlain Bridge could have become if we had invested in great architecture and proper maintenance.”
Completed after four years of construction on an $80-million budget, Place Ville Marie was the brainchild of the New York team of developer William Zeckendorf and architects I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb. Several of Place Ville Marie’s attributes – including its pioneering development of underground retailing – were later emulated in the construction of the World Trade Centre, said Leopold, 60, who used to visit his developer father’s offices at PVM regularly in his youth.
Roger Nicolet, a Quebec civil engineer who worked on Place Ville Marie, said many of Montreal’s current infrastructure problems stem from the use of exposed concrete, which degrades in the harsh winter climate. Today, builders are far more adept at constructing with concrete, he said.
But at the time, using anything but a steel structure for the construction of Place Ville Marie never crossed the minds of planners, he said.
It’s also a question of maintenance.
Inadequate investment in Montreal-area infrastructure dominated news headlines last year. The city and other levels of government have since pledged billions of dollars over several years toward repairs and the construction of a new bridge.
“One has to budget for that. And as we all know there was a period of time when that was not done and ... today we are paying the price,” said Montreal executive committee member Helen Fotopoulos, who attended Thursday’s launch of celebratory events for Place Ville Marie.
“We have priorities and we have to make sure that all levels (of government) are in on those priorities.”
Place Ville Marie is known in the real estate industry for being well-maintained for a mature building, said Louis Burgos, senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Montreal. Tenants include some of the rare head offices that remain in Montreal: Via Rail Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada.
Between 2000 and 2010, about $100 million was invested in renovating Place Ville Marie, said Dany Gauthier, general manager of the complex, which is jointly owned by pension fund giant, the Alberta Investment Management Corp. and Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate wing of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.