GWL Realty Advisors (GWLRA) has begun construction of two rental apartment towers with 820 units in downtown Montreal, marking the company’s first development project in the city.
The towers, 36 and 45 storeys, respectively, will be built in a vacant lot next to the head office of SNC Lavalin at 455 René Lévesque Blvd. W. GWLRA acquired the 21-storey SNC Lavalin building and the vacant lot in 2017 for $170 million in a deal that allows the engineering firm to remain a tenant for 20 years.
“Montreal’s rental inventory is a bit rundown and old. We thought it was a good opportunity to renew it,” said Pascale Roy, vice-president, asset management at GWLRA. “We also believe there is a demand at present for rental space downtown.”
Roy said there is demand from GWLRA’s investors to build rental units and the project fits long-term business plans to increase its rental presence in Montreal.
Roy would not divulge project costs other than “it’s a major investment. It’s a big project for Montreal. It proves the vitality of Montreal.”
GWLRA’s 455 René Lévesque project
The first building, at 36 storeys, will have 390 units with an average size of 650 square feet. Units will be primarily studios and one- and two-bedrooms, with a few three-bedrooms.
It’s scheduled to be completed by the summer or fall of 2022. The second tower, with about 430 units, could be completed by 2025.
The decision to build two towers will mitigate risk and allows GWLRA to measure demand before proceeding with the second building, Roy said. “There are risks associated with a project of 800 units in one tower. Proceeding with two towers is more prudent.”
The vacant lot is close to the Quartier des spectacles, home to many of Montreal’s festivals, and has been used for concerts during the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Roy was instrumental in allowing the jazz festival to use the site.
Roy believes the project will attract a vast clientele that includes professionals, students and people aged 55 and over. Potential tenants will be attracted by facilities including an exercise room, pool, social rooms and a dog run, she said.
There will be underground parking but “given that we’re between two Métro stations, we don’t need that much parking.” Instead, there will be plenty of space devoted to bicycle parking and car-share services.
Marketing for the rentals will begin six months before the first tower is complete.
Seek LEED certification
LEED certification will be sought for the project, something people are looking for, Roy says.
She said the aluminium and glass towers will not hide the view of Mount Royal and will integrate well with surrounding buildings.
The towers are being designed by IBI Group in collaboration with architects of record NEUF architect(e)s of Montreal.
GWLRA plans to rebuild a stone wall which served as the foundation of the old College Ste-Marie which was at the site until the 1960s. The only remaining portion of the original college is the du Gesù Church which is next to the project on de Bleury Street.
The project “marks a milestone” for GWLRA which has about four million square feet of properties in Quebec but has not previously developed real estate projects in Montreal, Roy said.
Other GWLRA Montreal properties
GWLRA’s other properties in downtown Montreal are 1350-1360 René Lévesque Blvd. W. and 2001 Robert-Bourassa Blvd. In the Montreal area, the company also has a number of sites in St. Laurent, Pierrefonds and Laval.
In early 2017, GWLRA and Investors Group bought 1350-1360 René Lévesque from Germany’s KanAm Grund Group for $429 million.
The class-A office complex includes two connected buildings of 25 storeys and 530,000 square feet and 17 storeys and 430,000 square feet, respectively.
Adjacent to the site is the former Guaranteed Pure Milk Building which GWLRA will eventually look at developing, Roy said.
Roy has been with GWL for 15 years, the last 10 as a vice-president. She is responsible for asset management in Eastern Canada.
GWL has completed more than $6 billion in development projects and is currently managing a development pipeline of $1.8 billion worth of projects that are under construction or in advanced planning.