Montreal transit agency ventures into real estate with mixed-use complex

via The Globe and Mail

Montreal’s transit agency will soon be breaking ground on a new project. But this time it won’t be the usual subway-line extension or transit hub. In a first for the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the agency is venturing into the real estate business with plans for a residential-office complex that will go up on a parking lot it owns, located just steps away from one of its Métro subway stations in the east end of the city.

It’s a bold foray for the STM as it seeks to boost much-needed non-farebox revenues to fund capital investments, operations and maintenance costs while at the same time promoting transit-oriented development (TOB) and helping the city reach its affordable/social housing targets.

The concept of transit agencies using real estate development for financing and urban planning purposes is not new; Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation has been a major real estate player for decades and other transit commissions involved in property development in one form or another include Singapore, Paris, London and New York. But Canadian cities to date have not been very adventurous on this front and Montreal’s modest first step is certain to be closely watched by transit agencies across the country as they seek innovative ways to capitalize on existing or new infrastructure and land development.

“This is a project that has several aspects and it’s important it have several aspects,” STM chairman Philippe Schnobb said. “There’s a huge need for social housing in Montreal.” The venture – at the Frontenac Métro station – allows for the densification of a low-income neighbourhood; in addition, its location right next to the subway helps promote public transit use. It also gets rid of an eyesore parking lot/heat island and replaces it with a structure that will include a green roof and a courtyard.