Place Ville Marie (PVM), the cruciform office tower and complex that helped give rise to a modern downtown Montreal and its underground pedestrian city, has turned 60 with a new $200-million lease on life.
The beginning of its seventh decade is being marked Sept. 14 with an evening musical celebration on PVM’s Esplanade (or plaza), during which a recently installed circular sculpture, The Ring, will be illuminated for the first time.
“Place Ville Marie has remained iconic for 60 years,” said Annik Desmarteau, vice-president, offices, Quebec at Ivanhoé Cambridge, which owns PVM. “Place Ville Marie is downtown. It’s where it’s happening.”
Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate subsidiary of CDPQ, Quebec’s pension
fund company, has owned PVM in its entirety since 2004.
“It’s a jewel in our international portfolio, but it’s in our backyard,” Desmarteau said.
Built on land that was owned by CN, the cruciform (cross-shaped) 47-storey tower covered what was once an open jumble of railway tracks leading into Central Station.
“It was an architectural exploit at the time,” she said of the glass and aluminium building designed by renowned U.S. architect I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb.
The 617-foot-high, 1.5-million-square-foot 1 Place Ville Marie remains the largest cross-shaped tower of its kind in Canada.
Desmarteau said it’s accompanied by the smaller 2, 3, 4 and 5 Place Ville Marie. The entire complex, including a shopping mall below its Esplanade or main plaza, comprises about 3.4 million square feet.
Place Ville Marie’s $200-million renovation
The $200-million renovation at Place Ville Marie was part of Ivanhoé Cambridge’s Nouveau Centre project, a $1-billion investment in downtown Montreal that included the redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and Eaton Centre and the construction of Maison Manuvie.
“We’ve always wanted to keep (PVM) as a leader downtown so the decision was made to redevelop it to today’s tastes and to restructure the way it works.”
A major chunk of the investment at PVM involved redevelopment of its Esplanade.
The parking garage entry and exit were moved away from Cathcart Street, enabling construction of a large staircase that provides pedestrian access to the Esplanade. The Esplanade now provides a sweeping view of McGill College Avenue and Mount Royal to the north and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to the south.
A 150-foot glass pavilion was built on the Esplanade, bathing the new Le Cathcart food court below in natural light. “That makes all the difference,” Desmarteau said, given Montreal’s long winters.
She notes architect Cobb gave a thumbs up to the redevelopment shortly before his death in 2020. “He was very happy because that was his initial vision for Place Ville Marie, but he didn’t get the chance to finish it as he wanted to.”
As part of the redevelopment, the stone facades and windows of the smaller PVM buildings were redone. Stone was sourced from the same quarry which had provided the material when the buildings were first built.
Even after 60 years, PVM “competes very well,” with new developments like Maison Manuvie and Tour Deloitte, Desmarteau said. Its vacancy rate currently stands at about 10 per cent.
“We’re seeing lots of support for the redevelopment and traction since we’ve been emerging from the pandemic,” she said. “Current tenants are happy with what we’ve done and potential tenants say they’d like to go there.”
Shopping and a “lab”
Parts of the shopping mall, which currently has a 35 per cent vacancy rate in terms of available square feet, are now under redevelopment. The vacancy rate “is not enormous,” Desmarteau said, given that several tenants needed to vacate their spaces during renovations.
PVM’s current store count stands at about 40, about half the amount it had in 1962, because much of the shopping mall has been converted into office space, she said.
Ivanhoé Cambridge wanted to diversify PVM’s office tenant mix beyond traditional tenants such as accounting and law firms, Desmarteau said. It has welcomed new tenants that include WeWork and marketing and architectural firm Sid Lee (which was involved in the PVM redevelopment design).
PVM is being used as a form of laboratory to test a variety of concepts, she said. This includes Flex, an office and meeting space operated by WeWork.
A variety of rooms, ranging from creative spaces, lounges and 50-person rooms, are available to all PVM tenants.
New technologies, such as air quality management, are also being tested in the PVM “lab.”
Future plans include the revitalization of its currently shuttered rooftop observatory.
“A symbol of Montreal”
Desmarteau said The Ring, an installation by artist Claude Cormier with a diameter of 30 metres, serves as the “icing on the cake” of PVM’s redevelopment.
“We hope it becomes a symbol of Montreal.”
That seems to be happening: Tourisme Montreal told Desmarteau it was the Montreal attraction that got the most appearances on social media during the summer.
The Ring cost $5 million, paid for primarily by Ivanhoé Cambridge, with contributions by the Quebec government, Tourisme Montréal and the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain.
It’s suspended at the main entrance of Esplanade PVM and jokingly referred to as the bagel, among other nicknames.
Starting with festivities Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m., The Ring will be lit every night.
Its lighting will change only during the Christmas period, since it is replacing a giant Christmas tree at the site that once marked the holiday season.