Experts were asked to offer guidelines on what a revamped McGill College Ave. should look like. One thing most agreed on is that the view of the mountain should not be blocked.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
Mayor Valérie Plante knows the city won’t be able to please everyone with the eventual re-design of McGill College Ave., but with the number of minds already involved in the project, she’s confident a happy medium is attainable.Plante spoke Saturday morning at an event capping off a three-day meeting of local and international experts to chart the future of the downtown artery.“It’s difficult, and I think you need to be honest and say we’re not going to satisfy everyone,” she said of the differing opinions of what should be done with the avenue, “but I know with such a big process like this one, we’re going to come up with something that will have a strong signature, which is exactly what I’m looking for.”Plante’s administration had talked about turning the avenue into a pedestrian-only square, but the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) has recommended vehicle access be maintained, while giving priority to pedestrians.On Saturday, Plante reiterated the city will find a way to accommodate businesses in the area that rely on car access to operate.The event came after two days of workshops in which 40 experts from Quebec and around the world were split into teams and challenged to come up with different concepts for the redevelopment.Ideas varied from making the avenue a green space, an elevated park, or even recreating a stream that would run down from the mountain — a return, experts suggested, to when water once ran through the city centre.“What we’re seeing today is a real craving for innovation and thinking outside the box,” Plante said after getting an overview of the different concepts presented.“McGill College Ave. has so much potential. It has the view of the mountain, it’s connected to the river if you go down, it’s wide and right in the centre of downtown Montreal — it’s such a great playground for people who want to envision what it could look like.”Roughly 200 people were on hand to listen to the experts’ presentations and share their own ideas and opinions for the redevelopment.Participants were invited to list items they feel absolutely shouldn’t be included in the project and items that must be included.Aspects people suggested shouldn’t be part of the project included cars, chain stores, billboards, bike paths, statues or trees that would block the view of the mountain and any anti-homeless structures.Those that must be included ranged from better access to the métro network, greenery, rest areas, a clear view of the mountain and a strong North-South link.What Plante said she took away most from the presentations was that everyone seemed to agree the new Réseau express métropolitain (REM) light rail station, set to open there in 2021, needs to be featured prominently and that green space needs to be at the core of the project.Related Daniel Chartier, a retired landscape architect who took part in the workshops, said what’s crucial is that the city doesn’t “miss its opportunity” to complete a project that can showcase Montreal for the next “10, 20, 40 years.”Chartier’s team focused on how the avenue interacts with the buildings around it, and its relationships with the mountain, nearby museums, the McGill University campus and the city’s underground network.With the new REM station being built there, Chartier said, many tourists’ first impression of Montreal will be when they get off at the downtown station.“And you only get one chance at a first impression,” he said.Luc Ferrandez, the executive committee member responsible for large parks and green spaces, said McGill College Ave. has always been important to Montrealers. He recalled how residents rejected a plan for a shopping centre and concert hall in the 1980s that would have spanned the street, blocking the view of Mount Royal.“Now it’s 2019, so what are we going to do?” he said. “Is it a street, is it an avenue, is it a field, is it a river? Everything is open and everything is on the table.”Both Plante and Ferrandez acknowledged the amount of construction in downtown Montreal in coming years will not be easy, between the planned Ste-Catherine St. revamp, the Phillips Square redesign, the REM station being built and the eventual McGill College Ave. overhaul.Plante spoke of ensuring a smooth “sequence” between the major projects to make sure downtown remains accessible throughout them. She said it was too early to say when the McGill College Ave. project will break ground.The city will launch an international competition to redesign the street at the end of the email@example.comTwitter.com/jessefeith