An economic shot in the arm is being offered to help encourage people to return to Montreal’s downtown core by the summer.
Montreal and the Quebec government are spending a combined $25 million and the Montreal Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is injecting another $8.5 million into efforts to draw visitors back to the city.
The money will be spent on numerous initiatives including funds to help ailing restaurants, which remain shuttered.
There is also financial aid for start-up companies to open in the city and free parking is available on the weekends at all metres until Labour Day.
“I invite all Montrealers, of course, but tourists across the province to come and visit. People from Ontario, you’re welcome,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said at a Thursday news conference.
But major challenges remain.
An overnight curfew in the city remains in effect, tourism is way down, most office employees work from home, the border crossings with the U.S. remain closed to non-essential traffic, bars and restaurants remain shuttered and there is no decision on whether major money making activities like the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Montreal Jazz Festival will be held.
“There’s still a lot of things we don’t know about. Some of the big events,” Plante said.
But there are signs some economic life is returning. Concert halls, theatres and other artistic venues can re-open to the public, with a limited audience, as of March 26.
The overnight curfew, too, has been pushed to 9:30 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m.
As more Quebecers receive the COVID-19 vaccine and a herd immunity level is reached, one analyst believes more workers will return to the downtown office instead of strictly working from home.
“If you are into the creative business, the development business, if you want to integrate a new work group — it doesn’t happen on-screen. You have to be there,” Michel Leblanc, CEO of the Montreal Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, told Global News.
The question remains whether the initiatives combined with more inoculations against COVID-19 will be enough to bring people back to the city this summer.