Montreal Mile End residents worry Van Horne warehouse project will 'kill the neighbourhood'

·3 min read
The Van Horne warehouse in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood is set to be turned into a hotel and commercial space.  (Matt D'Amours/CBC - image credit)
The Van Horne warehouse in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood is set to be turned into a hotel and commercial space. (Matt D'Amours/CBC - image credit)

When Mile End resident Sarah Lusthaus heard the landmark Van Horne warehouse and water tower in the neighbourhood might be turned into a hotel and commercial spaces, she was not thrilled.

"It's a landmark building, it represents Mile End, it would be really sad to see it converted," especially as the neighbourhood is already changing, she said.

"Having a hotel there would really convert it from a residential neighborhood into much more commercial and tourist places, which would be really sad for the Mile End," Lusthaus said.

Lusthaus isn't the only resident to be upset by the idea of the project.

People have been leaving disapproving comments under Facebook and Twitter posts related to the plans for the warehouse — including on Plateau Mont-Royal councillor Marie Plourde's page.

"People from the Mile End are really attached to the building, they love it," Plourde said. "We know that people will be really scared because we don't like change and this is an iconic building."

Zébulon Perron, who is designing the project, said the goal is to create a multi-use space with a hotel, restaurant, working spaces and, on the ground floor, commercial spaces.

"We've always been fascinated by this building so we're making sure that the vision is respectful of the building's architectural worth," he said.

Perron said that the specific Van Horne stretch with the warehouse isn't as lively as its surroundings, and people might feel unsafe walking there at night. The project would aim to "revitalize the area," he said.

"It's important to note nothing has been approved yet or rubber stamped or anything like that."

Matt D'Amours/CBC
Matt D'Amours/CBC

Developers presented their vision to the borough but still need to look over preliminary comments from the Comités consultatifs d'urbanisme (CCU), hold a public assembly and have residents approve before following through.

"If the residents say no, the project dies," said Plourde. Developers would have to start the process all over again.

Thomas Duret, a Mile End resident who worked in art studios next to the Van Horne warehouse, is worried the project will contribute to the rapid gentrification of the area.

"It's this point of view like 'let's buy this. It's empty, it looks trashy, we'll make it for rich people' and it actually kills the neighbourhood. It doesn't revitalize anything," he said.

He said shared spaces in the city are vanishing and the community should decide what they want in the neighbourhood for themselves.

"Sometimes the best way of revitalizing the neighbourhood is to leave it as it is and let it grow," said Duret, stressing that affordable housing projects should take priority over hotels.

But Plourde says the Van Horne warehouse isn't logistically suitable for housing projects due to zoning restrictions.

As for the water tower perched on the warehouse, Plourde and Perron say it isn't going anywhere and that is "non-negotiable."

"I wouldn't even be participating in this project if the water tower was in question," said Perron.