Concerns for the future of Chinatown

The purchase of several historic buildings in the heart of Montreal’s Chinatown by a real estate developer worries citizens, who are claiming heritage site status for the area in the same way as Old Montreal.

At the corner of De La Gauchetière and Côté streets, behind the Palais des congrès, stands the former British and Canadian School building, designed in 1826, home to the noodle and oriental cookie maker Wing, in business for over 100 years. years. Right next door is an imposing building incorporating part of the Free Presbyterian Church, built in 1848.

Noodles Wing sold those two buildings in March to developers Brandon Shiller and Jeremy Kornbluth, of Hillpark Capital, for $ 9.2 million. These are businessmen who have recently made the headlines, being accused of trying to evict the tenants of Manoir Lafontaine, in the Plateau-Mont-Royal. The Chinatown Task Force then mobilized, the daily reported on Monday. Montreal Gazette.

“It’s a shock. We thought that Wing would be there forever or would be the last to leave the neighborhood, because the company has always been there ”, comments Donny Seto, member of the Group.

For the moment, the noodle business has become a tenant of the premises and continues to operate. But the Group, which brings together citizens who have the social development of the sector at heart, has the impression that the promoters have other plans. At the start of the year, they acquired several other addresses in rue De La Gauchetière, including a former Chinese school dating from the 19th century.e century, and parking lots. Their business entity is called Investissements 1000 Saint-Urbain.

“There seems to be a desire to merge these lots to make a major project”, judge Jonathan Cha, founding member of the Working Group.

Jean-Philippe Riopel has lived for 11 years in one of the buildings newly acquired by Investissements 1000 Saint-Urbain. He was the one who alerted the Group when he learned of these sales. The one who is a tourist guide in the neighborhood has not yet received an eviction notice. However, the other two tenants of the building left the premises shortly before and after the acquisition by the new owner.

Mr. Riopel, Mr. Cha and Mr. Seto fear that heritage buildings will be destroyed to build condominium apartments. Mr. Seto points out that several such tower projects are underway along Viger Avenue. “If they put twenty-story buildings in place of the most historic buildings in the neighborhood, it will destroy Chinatown,” they say.

For its part, Hillpark Capital indicates that “there is currently no official planned project and any future potential project would strongly take into consideration the very rich history of the surrounding neighborhood and would put forward, in a sensitive, the preservation of the architectural heritage of existing buildings ”.

The policy director of Heritage Montreal, Dinu Bumbaru, points out that this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Montreal, where there are foundations dating back to the time of the French regime. English, Scottish and Jewish communities then occupied it before the Chinese. However, megaprojects like the Guy-Favreau Complex have already destroyed part of it. The area is part of the protection area of ​​the Church of the Catholic-Chinese Mission-of the Holy Spirit, forcing any demolition project to obtain the approval of the Minister of Culture. The Chinatown Task Force emphasizes that provincial recognition as a heritage site would allow more control over any development there.

Access to housing

Beyond the built environment, the Group believes that gentrification could have deleterious effects on the Chinese community. Access to housing is already severely limited, says Jonathan Cha, and upward pressure from rents could push current residents out. “We must ensure that there is a Chinese population who can stay there and that there are enough premises for social, community, cultural and religious functions,” argues Mr. Cha. Without it, he fears Chinatown will turn into a soulless tourist district.

Robert Beaudry, city councilor in Ville-Marie, shares the concerns of citizens. “When we look at what happened on Papineau Avenue or in other commercial buildings in Mile End, we see that these are owners who sometimes have very dubious strategies that lead people who have been there to leave. for a very long time and which destroy the neighborhoods a lot, ”indicates the one who is also responsible for Housing on the executive committee. He stressed that an action plan to revitalize Chinatown will soon be made public, drawn up with many community partners.

The City will use all the tools at its disposal to ensure adequate development there, says Beaudry. “It is the only French-speaking Chinatown in North America. We want to magnify it, not decimate it, ”he says.

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