Groupe Devimco has begun construction of Phase 2 of its Auguste & Louis condo development on the site that once served as the parking lot for the former CBC/Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal.
It's part of the developer’s plan to build 2,200 condo units on the Quartier des lumières site just west of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and near the city’s downtown core.
Meanwhile, developer Groupe Mach says it still plans to develop about 900,000 square feet of office space at Quartier des lumières, despite the current high vacancy rates in the city. According to JLL, the office vacancy rate in downtown Montreal was 13.4 per cent in Q1.
To be built at a cost of $111 million, the 21-storey Phase 2 of Auguste & Louis will contain 253 units, with prices ranging from $289,000 for a studio to $595,000 for a two-bedroom. Sixty per cent of the units have been sold.
Phase 1 of Auguste & Louis 95 per cent sold
The $80-million, 15-storey Phase 1 of the development contains 265 units and is 95 per cent sold, with the first units slated for occupancy this fall.
“It’s a super-well-located project,” Devimco partner James Goulet says of Auguste & Louis, which sits at René-Lévesque Boulevard East and Beaudry Street. Devimco is developing the project along with partners Fonds immobilier de solidarité FTQ and Fiera Real Estate.
The condo development is primarily attracting owner-occupants, comprised mainly of young professional and first-time buyers, along with some second-time buyers, empty nesters and a few investors.
With condo units selling for an average of about $750 per square foot, the development is much more affordable than those downtown where prices are often north of $1,000 to $1,200 per square foot, Goulet says.
Despite higher interest rates, “we continue to have traction” on sales, which Goulet attributes to the project’s location and a growing gap between housing supply and demand.
While sales aren’t happening at the same pace as they were when interest rates were lower, “people still need housing.”
Devimco will build the nearly-1,700 remaining condo units over the next seven or eight years on the western side of Quartier des lumières, Goulet says.
Office, apartments and retail also on the way
While Devimco is building condos at the site, Groupe Mach is “now getting ready” to develop 1,600 rental apartments, about 250,000 square feet of retail space and about 900,000 square feet of office space on the eastern side of Quartier des lumières, says Groupe Mach president Vincent Chiara.
The former 24-storey Maison de Radio-Canada tower, which was built in the early 1970s, will be converted to about 270,000 square feet of office space.
An additional 600,000 square feet of office space will be built in two towers similar in size to the former CBC/Radio-Canada tower, he says.
Chiara is now hoping Mach will start development on the site in 2024, including demolition of five storeys of underground studios in the former headquarters of the public broadcaster.
Plans are being finalized for what Chiara says is “a huge demolition process.”
While it’s unlikely office space will be required in the next couple of years in Montreal given current vacancy rates, “historically we’ve managed to absorb (office) space in Montreal over time,” Chiara says.
In addition, Chiara maintains much of the city’s current vacant office space will be taken off the market because it is rundown and undesirable.
“It no longer has any more life at least as office space. It will be refitted or redeveloped as residential space, which is a good thing because it will just add more warm bodies downtown that we can use.
"There’s a flight to quality, so I think those C- and B-(class) buildings will disappear.”
The retail component at the site will likely include a large grocery store, pharmacy and hardware store, along with restaurants, banks and services for residents, he says.
The housing mix at Quartier des lumières
In addition to the 1,600 multiresidential units at the site, Mach will build about 500 social and affordable housing units to respect the new affordability regulation of the City of Montreal.
The 20-20-20 regulation calls for a mix of affordable, social housing and family-sized units in new housing developments.
For its part, Devimco made a financial payment to the City of Montreal instead of building affordable housing. The reasoning, Goulet says, was that it would have needed to charge more for the condo units if it developed affordable housing on the site.
Chiara says Mach and Devimco are collaborating on the quality and design of buildings to ensure synergy at the site.
He’s hoping Mach can develop the project in less than seven years, “but maybe we’re being a bit aggressive when we say that.”
Goulet says common areas have been rethought for Phase 2 of the condo development because of the pandemic.
Rethinking the housing unit design
“Before the pandemic, common areas were used almost exclusively for recreational uses (from gyms and swimming pools to barbecues).
“Post-pandemic, common areas have to be seen as work and collaborative areas (where people can have team meetings or meet clients)," he says.
In addition, while buyers of two-bedroom condos used to use second bedrooms for children or roommates before the pandemic, second bedrooms are now being used as home offices.
As a result, layouts have been adjusted with larger master bedrooms and slightly smaller second bedrooms, Goulet says.
Overall, the mixed-use Quartier des lumières will contain about four million square feet of buildable space and will include a 68,000-square-foot park, a community space and a school.
The recently completed 418,822-square-foot Maison de Radio-Canada, on the eastern edge of Quartier des lumières and just east of CBC/Radio-Canada’s former headquarters, was built by Broccolini.