Saturday, January 28, 2012

Montreal's Shining Light Turns '50'

 MONTREAL - “La Grande Dame de Montréal” is half a century old, but by all accounts she’s aging gracefully.

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.

Some of those renovations proved controversial, with heritage groups and Cobb denouncing the “suburbanization of the plaza” after more modern glass and skylights were installed.


Les F said...

This is another one of our photo albums from our photo link.A lot of Place Ville Marie shots,either views of,or views from. Enjoy your trip back through pics.....


Les F said...

Apparently there will be (or is now) an exhibition on display at the Place Ville Marie of archived photos of the planning & the building of Place Ville Marie itself.
That may be of interest to our members who still live in Montreal. I read where the display will be there until October I think ?
As a kid I remember the deep hole which was to be the below ground floors & foundation of the PVM,then seeing it in various stages of construction.My oldman took me through there many times. Then a few years later,one of my sisters worked for Air Canada,so I would get to go to the top floors,where she worked,and then we would go for lunch nearby ( the Astor,I believe it was).......Ahhh many moons ago........ Cheers ! HF&RV - Les

Les F said...

This link takes you to one of our threads from a few years ago,about the PVM from a story that was in the Gazette at the time.....Have a look if you like:

.....HF&RV - Les

Les F said...

1962 Video from ESSO:

Sue Van Duinen said...

Amazing photos, Les!

Les F said...

There are some neat ones,glad you liked them..............Cheers ! HF&RV - Les