New plans for Place Jacques-Cartier criticized by restaurants, artists
Jul 29, 2015
Local merchants say a plan by the Ville-Marie borough to revitalize Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal for the 375th anniversary will have restaurant terrasses and artists moving around the square like figures on a chess board, which will only hurt business.
Almost all the restaurants on both sides of the square popular with tourists have built terrasses in front that serve “alfresco” dining when the weather permits. But according to owners, the borough plans to move the terrasses to the centre of the square, separated from the restaurants by a lane of traffic to free up the façades.
At meetings held Monday and Tuesday with the owners and artists currently occupying the Place Jacques-Cartier, the borough presented the new concept for the square and public spaces in Old Montreal, which was drawn up by the Mile-End firm Atelier Ville Architecture Paysage.
The development is inspired by Barcelona’s famed central street La Rambla, a 1.2-kilometre boulevard with a central pedestrian walkway, which hosts the terrasses of restaurants situated across one-way traffic roads, performance art, kiosks, etc.
“Imagine a server with a serving tray, on a Saturday night when there are fireworks, trying to cross a mob of people to the terrasse. — Jean-Marc Lavoie, director of restaurant Jardin Nelson”
“La Rambla in Barcelona is ‘open’ 11 months out of 12, there’s no rain, they have sunshine,” said Karim Filali, who owns La Marée and La Grande Terrasse restaurants in the square. “Here it rains every second day.”
According to Filali, moving the terrasses to “liberate the facades” is ridiculous.
“The facades are very visible in the winter,” he said. “There are no terrasses, and there are no people.”
No timetable exists yet for the project, said Anik de Repentigny from the Ville-Marie borough. A public consultation will take place by the end of September. No details will be confirmed before then, she said.
“The objective is to make the Place Jacques-Cartier the entrance to Old Montreal for everyone,” de Repentigny wrote in an email. The borough awarded a $94,000 contract to the architecture firm in May.
Ville-Marie would be responsible for the cost of the furniture and installation of the new terrasses, Filali said, but the new plan needs to take into account Montreal’s erratic weather conditions. Terrasses along buildings have natural protection from the wind, and easy access to electricity and heating. Many have protective screens and awnings to shield clients from the rain and cold, as well as multiple levels and ramps because of the square’s slope.
If the city takes over the expenses for terrasse property and setup, restaurants could save thousands of dollars that go to installation and decoration, but owners still think it “makes no sense.”
Jean-Marc Lavoie, director of restaurant Jardin Nelson, said he fears the city will fail to install the terrasses at the start of the tourist season in April, furniture will likely be damaged, all the terrasses in the centre will look alike, and later, the city will have difficulty storing the patios and equipment.
Add that to the risk of accidents for waiters if the roads are reopened on both sides to traffic.
“Imagine a server with a serving tray, on a Saturday night when there are fireworks, trying to cross a mob of people to the terrasse,” Lavoie said. Restaurants that do have detached terrasses usually don’t offer the full menu, he said.
Jardin Nelson has had its front terrasse since 1998, and Lavoie said it cost roughly $50,000 in material, furniture and flowers. The restaurant employs about 140 people and serves close to 2,000 clients on Saturdays.
“It doesn’t make sense that you would have a study like this, to tell people ‘we’re going to move your terrasse’ without making the effort to consult them,” Lavoie said. If the project goes ahead, he may seek an injunction.
This new plan will also affect the artists currently populating the centre of the square.
Lucien Gobeil has been selling his photographs and paintings in Old Montreal for nearly 50 years along St-Amable St., also known as the Rue des Artistes., which grew to showcase dozens of artists and is in Montreal tour-guide books.
Two years ago, artists were displaced to the centre of Place Jacques-Cartier because of construction for a new hotel and were given large decorated metal containers by the city to hold their work. The new arrangement was supposed to be permanent, Gobeil said, but now the city wants them to move to de la Commune St. Five of 19 artists installed at Place Jacques-Cartier have already agreed to move.
“They don’t want us to go back to St-Amable,” he said, though he and several other artists say the new location has hurt sales. “We’re going to fight (it).”
Place Jacques-Cartier is also where artisans, caricaturists, balloon animal artists and performers work daily and pay around $500 a year for permits. Each group has its own representative at this week’s consultations.
Vincent Pimparé, a magician, spoke for the few street performers in Old Montreal. The plaza once had two spots reserved for performers, he said, but now they can only work near the north end and under the new plan they’ll be moved to the south end of the square.
“They just move us because we can be moved,” Pimparé said. He also suspects he will now have to compete with street performers that get paid to hold free shows near city hall.
What owners and artists all agree on is the need for more public toilets to accommodate visitors, who are directed to the nearby Marché Bonsecours.
“This city wants a baseball team, but they can’t pay for a bathroom,” Gobeil said. “You shouldn’t go to Spain (for inspiration). Go to Quebec City, it’s not far.”