September 28, 2010 5:27 pm

Former Ekers Brewery to become condominiums

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The entrance of the former Ekers Brewery, on St. Laurent Blvd. beside the Just For Laughs Museum, is to be reinvented as 50 lower and mid-priced condos.

The 116-year-old building designed by architects Dunlop and Heriot – now a warehouse and distribution centre for Chinese-made toys and household items – is to become a $17 million mixed-use project, with two small ground-floor businesses and a separate entrance for residents on St. Dominique St.

Devéloppements McGill Inc. has an exclusive right to purchase the former brewery, with the closing to take place in early 2011, company president Stéphane Côté said. While the stone façade of the building is to be preserved, the loft-like apartments will be modern, with an extension to be built on an attached parking lot facing St. Dominique St. and the Bon Pasteur Monestary.

"This is part of a major trend where people want to walk to shows, to restaurants, to the best that Montreal has to offer," said Louis Migneault, DevMcGill’s vice-president of operations and marketing. "People want more and more to live in the middle of the action. They’re telling developers, ‘don’t bring me far away to the suburbs where it’s quiet and I will be bored.’ "

To be delivered in fall 2012, the St. Dominique project is one of a growing number of condo developments going up in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles – an area encompassing the entertainment sector and former red light district – which stretches from City Councillors to St. Hubert Sts. and between René Levesque Blvd. and Sherbrooke St.

But some observers question whether the combination of new homeowners with the noisy festivals, shows and lively bar-going crowds that are fixtures on the Main could generate conflict.

"It’s a great looking project and it will bring new people to the district which is wonderful," said David Heurtel, VP corporate and public affairs for the Just For Laughs Group, which manages the festival along with the museum, cabaret and studio Juste Pour Rirer next door to the new condo project.

"But there’s going to be condos next to two music festivals; that’s going to be interesting," Heurtel added. "It opens a much broader question about having a Quartier des Spectacles and the growth of residential units around this district. Each city that has residents next to a vibrant nightlife sector is grappling with this issue. It could be a good opportunity to look at what other cities are doing.

"People want to be in the action, but there are certain drawbacks to being in the action."

DevMcGill president Côté says the thick walls between the two buildings, along with the use of a hallway as a buffer, will diminish noise from the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire next door.

But besides the noise, remnants of the area’s life as a red light district still exist; a reporter walking up Saint Dominique near Ontario St. this week spotted several abandoned buildings covered in grafitti, along with two junkies shooting up behind shrubs in an empty lawn littered with trash.

"I find it weird to hear of people buying condos and looking down the street and seeing drug addicts," said one unemployed man hanging out at the corner of St. Laurent and Ontario Sts.

But the St. Dominique project is located between Saint-Norbert and Sherbrooke Sts. where the grime gives away to residential buildings. Red geraniums bloomed on the balcony of a modern condo just south of the monestary.

"We are much closer to the beautiful construction on Sherbrooke St. then we are to lower St. Laurent," Migneault said. "Not all St. Laurent addresses are the same."

One reason condo builders have targeted the Quartier des Spectacles is that there are only so many affordable, centrally-located sites left in Montreal. The city’s $150 million investment in cleaning up and beautifying Sainte Catherine St. near the Main can only spread up the hill, Côté said.

The St. Dominique project is priced at about $350 per square foot, with units ranging from $195,000 for a 500 square foot one-bedroom apartment to around $1 million for the penthouse. Parking, which is at a premium in the area, is extra at $45,000 for a conventional spot.

Such prices would never be feasible in a mature neighbourhood like Westmount or Old Montreal, Côté said.

"Show me a perfect neighbourhood and you won’t find an opportunity for condos," Migneault added. "Show me a perfect neighbourhood and you’ll find an opportunity that was passed by."

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