I guess it took Phyllis Lambert to talk some sense into Stephen Bronfman
'Joan of Architecture' to the rescue
Phyllis Lambert lives in Old Montreal but has worked for years in an effort to revitalize Shaughnessy Village
BY LINDA GYULAI, THE GAZETTEAPRIL 2, 2010 7:35 AM
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Phyllis Lambert in the Canadian Centre for Architecture: She assembled more than 20 local stakeholders to create a roundtable to sort out the future of Shaughnessy Village.
Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, The Gazette
There are rumblings of change in Shaughnessy Village, and architect Phyllis Lambert, the neighbourhood's most famous guardian, couldn't be happier.
The company that owns the abandoned Seville Theatre at Ste. Catherine and Chomedey Sts. is close to announcing the start of work to redevelop a block that has been like a canker for the neighbourhood for more than two decades, The Gazette has learned.
Claridge Properties Ltd. re-surfaced about a week ago to jump-start discussions with the Ville Marie borough, which includes Shaughnessy Village, on its project to build student residences, borough spokesperson Jacques-Alain Lavallée said.
An announcement is expected in a couple of weeks.
The company, owned by Stephen Bronfman, grandson of Seagram's founder Samuel Bronfman, has found a partner to construct the project, Lavallée added.
The borough hadn't heard from Claridge since Montreal city council approved the $100-million project last year.
The firm did not return The Gazette's calls.
If anyone could be credited with lighting a fire under the developer, it may be Lambert, Bronfman's aunt and the saviour of the century-old mansion on René Lévesque Blvd. between St. Marc and Fort Sts. that gave the neighbourhood its name.
Though she lives in Old Montreal, Lambert has been an instigator in Shaughnessy Village for years in an effort to revitalize a neighbourhood that she considers the city's greatest area of heritage after Old Montreal.
In 1974, she bought the Shaughnessy mansion to save it from the wrecker's ball. Today, it forms part of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, founded by Lambert.
"This is clearly one of the great areas of the city," Lambert said this week.
"It could be an absolutely magnificent place."
Shaughnessy Village is one of the few residential downtown neighbourhoods in North America, but it was hammered by the city's economic downturn in the 1980s and '90s and by "the bloody Seville," as Lambert put it.
She sees the development of the Seville block as the catalyst to revitalize an area that's a mix of rundown buildings, 1970s architectural "junk," as she calls it, and lovingly renovated Victorian homes.
Nicknamed Joan of Architecture, Lambert has a long history of saving heritage.
In 2005, frustrated by the city's long neglect of Shaughnessy Village, she assembled more than 20 local stakeholders, including commercial and institutional property owners, businesses and the Shaughnessy Village Association, to form a roundtable to sort out the area's future.
The members raised $30,000 to hire the non-profit group Convercité in 2006 to assess the area's strengths and problems and propose a development plan. The group submitted the plan to the borough, urging it to design a neighbourhood urban plan, given that the area was ignored in the city's 2004 master plan.
The roundtable then raised money in 2008 to hold a design charrette, which draws together architects to draft a solution to a design problem, for Cabot Square. The drawings of three firms were posted in the Pepsi Forum to elicit public feedback, which was integrated into a report the roundtable gave the city.
A common theme was to draw more green through the neighbourhood, which sits at the foot of the mountain and houses the estates of the Sulpician Fathers on Sherbrooke St., the Grey Nuns on René Lévesque and the CCA.
Ste. Catherine needs shops that will attract people from across the city, sidewalk cafés and trees, Lambert said. And the area needs social housing, high-end homes and student residences, she said. The area's itinerants, and the community organizations that serve them, have a place here as well, she said.
The roundtable's efforts appear to be paying off.
Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who is also mayor of the borough, plans to unveil an urban plan for the neighbourhood, as well as an urban plan for eastern downtown, in a few weeks, his spokesperson Darren Becker said yesterday
Still, Lambert is critical of Tremblay on the planning front. His administration has ignored opposition to some city projects and it's late in revising the master plan. City hall is fixated on big-ticket projects, she said.
"There's a lack of vision," she said, "there's a lack of guts ... a lack of excitement."
So the roundtable acts as a substitute for the city, where developers like her nephew discuss their plans and accept criticism from Lambert.
Bronfman told his aunt a couple of weeks that the Seville project will go ahead.
"And I was thrilled because it's so central," Lambert said.
"I see my role as trying to organize it. I initiated that effort of putting everybody together. What could I do more at this point?"
To view the designs and report on the charrette held for Cabot Square, go to convercite.org/article.php?id=1204749487〈_id=fr
THE PROBLEM WITH THE VILLAGE
Hear Phyllis Lambert express her frustration with the long-standing neglect of Shaughnessy Village in a video by Phil Carpenter of The Gazette, at montrealgazette.com/videos
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