August 4th, 2021
Baseball stadium vs. affordable housing in Peel Basin
June 13, 2021
As the last large undeveloped area near downtown Montreal, Peel Basin represents an opportunity to respond to the many social, environmental and economic needs of the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood and Montreal more broadly. However, vested interests of private developers and local business elite threaten to turn this public land into another generator of private profits in an expansion of Griffintown-style condo development and possibly a government-subsidized baseball stadium.
The Wellington Basin site (more commonly referred to as Peel Basin) is a 20.5 (8.5 hectare) area in the Bridge-Bonaventure district of the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood. The site was one of several properties that was sold to Canada Lands in 2010 as part of the federal government’s Montreal New Harbourfront initiative. Real estate developer Devimco first presented a development project for the area to the City of Montreal in 2018.
In pink, properties in Peel Basin owned by Canada Lands. In turquoise is the property owned by Loto-Quebec, violet is owned by Parks Canada, and yellow represents City of Montreal property. Image: Action-Gardien
In early 2019, Stephen Bronfman and Pierre Boivin of the Montreal investment firm Claridge Inc. registered with Quebec’s registry of lobbyists. According to the filing, they wanted the province’s support in upcoming discussions with the federal government over the potential transfer of land for a stadium project.
A sketch for the stadium advocated for by Bronfman and Claridge. Photo: Provencher Roy
In December 2020, Serge Goulet, president of Devimco, orchestrated a media release to present its proposal for development in the Peel Basin site. The proposal did not include a baseball stadium, although Goulet said he is still in discussions with Bronfman and Boivin about an eventual partnership to develop the area. The proposal Devimco unveiled seems to be simply a extension of the condo-tower development of Griffintown, which has been heavily criticized from multiple political perspectives. Devimco’s proposal also did not take into account the recommendations produced in the OCPM’s 2020 report on the site. With 13 other developers, Goulet also signed an open letter asking the City to speed up authorizations for real estate projects under the pretext of contributing to Montreal’s post-Covid economic recovery.
Canada Lands is currently reviewing the recommendations of the OCPM’s 2020 report and working with the City on next steps. Serge Goulet of Devimco has said that Montreal will not produce its development plan before the summer of 2021, a few months before the municipal elections.
Stephan Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, leads the group of investors interested in bringing professional baseball back to Montreal. Stephan’s father Charles Bronfman was the original owner of the Montreal Expos, which played 35 years in the city before moving to Washington in 2005.
Stephan Bronfman is currently Executive Chair of Bronfman family’s investment firm Claridge Inc., which invests through direct private equity in a range of food and restaurant, media and entertainment, and technology companies as well as real estate. Within the latter, Claridge’s focus is on “investing in development and re-development projects in Quebec and Ontario,” with projects such as “condominiums, rental apartments, seniors housing, single-family and townhomes, design-build industrial, design-build office and industrial to office conversion projects.”
The Bronfman family has ties to the Liberal party that go back generations. Stephen Bronfman was instrumental in Trudeau’s successful bid for the leadership of the Canadian Liberal party in 2013 and the premiership two years later. Bronfman raised $2m for Trudeau’s leadership campaign and was rewarded by being made the Liberal party’s chief fundraiser with a seat on its national executive. Bronfman is also Vice Chair on the Board of the David Suzuki foundation, and co-chairs the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation.
Pierre Boivin, current president and CEO of Claridge, was also former president of the Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal Baseball Group, a partnering of several Montreal business elites to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal, has been lobbying to get funding from the Quebec government for a stadium in the Peel Basin site since 2019. In addition to Bronfman, the group also includes Eric Boyko of Stingray Digital Group Inc., Alain Bouchard of Alimination Couche-Tard Inc, and former Cirque du Soleil chair Mitch Garber. In late March 2021, the Montreal Baseball Groupchanged its registration with the Quebec Lobbyists Registry, adding two more people to join Bronfman and Boivin as lobbyists: William Jegher of financial firm EY and Richard Epstein of BCF Lawyers.
Province of Quebec: Premier François Legault announced in March 2021 that Quebec was open to giving the Montreal Baseball Group a loan that would be forgiven (turning it into a subsidy) if the tax revenue generated by the project is greater than the amount of the original loan.
The City of Montreal ultimately holds the power to grant the permits and zoning changes needed to carry out any proposal. In 2019, Mayor Valerie Plante said that she would be open to the idea of a baseball stadium at the Peel Basin. Plante has said she still hasn’t seen a business plan from the promoters, but she is interested in working with them to make sure the Peel Basin is the right location for a stadium and that the project would take into account the needs and reality of the area. However, in a statement following the release of the OCPM report in March 2020, Plante said that the report shows Montrealers have “very high expectations” for the area’s development, and that the city will continue to work on plans while keeping the OCPM report in mind. After the president of Devimco, Serge Goulet, held a virtual press briefing in late 2020 to call on the Plante administration to speed up the approval times for several private sector projects including the Peel Basin project, Plante responded that there would be no piecemeal development to cater to developers’ specific requests, such as Devimco’s call for an REM station in the area.
In May 2019, a coalition of 26 community organizations in Pointe-Saint-Charles called Action-Gardien held a Opération populaire d’aménagement (OPA) with residents. The subsequent report proposed a comprehensive development plan with an inclusive and dense yet human-scale residential development in Peel Basin. This vision prioritizes social and community housing, active transportation, greening and urban gardening, and a variety of local services and collective facilities that are currently lacking in the neighbourhood. By contrast, Action-Gardien finds that Devimco’s proposals of high-rise condos in a continuation of Griffintown and Bronfman and Claridge’s baseball stadium project would not meet the many needs of households and families in Pointe-Saint-Charles and Montreal, in addition to erasing the identity and heritage of the neighborhood.
Citizen teams in the Opération population d’aménagement for the Bridge-Bonaventure district. Photos: Action-Gardien
Proposal for a human-scale living environment in the Peel Basin from the OPA report. Image: Action-Gardien/Poddubiuk architecture.
The same year, the OCPM began a public engagement program for the Bridge-Bonaventure district including the Peel site, and the report from that process was made public in early 2020. The OCPM’s recommendations mostly lined up completely with the OPA report, promoting connectivity between neighbourhoods, access to public spaces and the riverbanks, prioritizing active and public transportation, and including green and blue corridors to improve the ecological resilience of the area. However, Action-Gardien and other housing groups say that the OCPM’s recommendations of merely including some social, affordable, and family housing in a largely private development does not go far enough to have an impact on the city’s housing crisis, particularly given the growing issue of gentrification and displacement in the Point-Saint-Charles neighbourhood, as well as the enormous deficit in social housing in Montreal more broadly.
The report also found the idea of a baseball stadium in the neighbourhood was “very controversial, ” opposed by slightly over half of respondents. One of the main arguments against the project was that it would not fit the need for social housing in the area. The report also outlined the points made by those who favoured the construction of a stadium, such as economic benefit to local businesses, and its year-round availability for use to the community. However, the OCPM drew no definite conclusions about the construction of a baseball stadium in the report, saying they weren’t presented with any studies on the economic, social or environmental impact the project would have. Instead, the OCPM said the construction of a stadium would require an independent public consultation, once a more detailed plan is proposed (other sporting installations such as Percival Molson Stadium and the Jarry Tennis Stadium have also been subject to project-specific public consultations).
A number of citizen actions have also protested the gentrification-inducing private development and possible baseball stadium, demanding instead that the last large parcel of undeveloped land in the area be used to build urgently-needed social housing. Most recently, a protest organized by the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) calling on the provincial government to dramatically increase social housing ended at the fence of the Peel Basin lands. TKTK June 19 Action-gardien rally
Protest on the need for social housing in the Peel Basin area on May 8, 2021. Photo: FRAPRU.
In light of the upcoming election, we must urge the future administration to ensure that public lands in the Peel Basin used to meet the urgent needs of Montrealers, rather than privatized for the benefit of real estate and business elites. Instead, the City must work with the federal government to mobilize these lands for community and social housing as part of Canada’s National Housing Strategy. Peel Basin represents a significant opportunity to address a growing housing crisis that Montreal cannot afford to let slip by.