Massive Saint-Catherine Street overhaul starts Monday
Starting Monday, Saint-Catherine Street and the businesses along it will be subjected to a familiar rite of passage in the City: major construction.
A 2.2-kilometre stretch will be transformed from Atwater Street near the old Forum, all the way to the entrance of the Quartier des Spectacles.
The construction is needed to replace approximately100-year-old underground infrastructure, but the city also plans to use the opportunity to expand sidewalks, plant more trees and offer free Wi-Fi access along the strip.
Montreal's new city administration is promising that things will be done differently from previous municipal governments.
But business owners still fear being caught in another construction nightmare: streets ripped up, closed, then reopened, as well as labyrinths of orange cones and treacherous plywood walkways repelling clients and revenues.
"I requested two things form the city,'' said souvenir shop owner Faress Zahed, who's been on Saint-Catherine for 23 years. "Finish the job faster by using two shifts of workers one after the other, and to give us a break from taxes."
The Iraq native has owned his shop through several municipal governments and rounds of construction mazes.
He clasps his hands behind him and pretends to peer into a big crater, imitating what he says were previous construction supervisors outside his store who seemed to do a lot of looking around while the site languished.
Zahed is a little incredulous that this time around will be different.
"Honestly, that's a big question mark,'' he says with a smile. "I wish once in a while the mayor comes by and sees for herself or sends one of her advisers. Let them come and see if the workers are doing what they said they would.''
Robert Beaudry, the city councillor responsible for economic development, says tourists and shoppers along certain sections of Saint-Catherine over the coming years will definitely be walking through a construction site, but hopefully one that is welcoming.
"We are working with communication companies to have a signage system that is very clear,'' said Beaudry, whose team was elected last November under the city's first female mayor, Valerie Plante.
"We want shoppers to know the stores aren't just open, we want to show people they are invited to come and visit,'' he said.
Plante's government is also open to offering tax breaks and credits, or subsidies to businesses who suffer financially from the renovations.
"All of that is on the table,'' Beaudry said. "We are working on a plan and we'll have details by this summer.''
Phase 1 of the project will renovate the strip between Mansfield Street and the entertainment district to the east, and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
The second phase, from Mansfield West to Atwater Avenue, will begin after that.
Beaudry said the cost of the initial phase will be at least $115 million, but he recognized the price tag ``could vary enormously depending on the types of choices we make.''
The first project proposed by the previous administration planned for heated sidewalks and a giant, inflatable tunnel running down Saint-Catherine Street to shelter pedestrians from the work site.
"That's all under study right now,'' Beaudry said.