Brief: Submitted to the consulting commitee on the re-use of the buildings currently housing the McGill University Health Center

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Added on 16 January 2001 in Briefs and notices

Submission to the consulting commitee on the re-use of the buildings currently housing the McGill University Health Center
Montreal, January 16, 2001

The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has currently 7 000 members representing altogether over 500,000 jobs in the Metropolitan Montreal Region.

The Board of Trade's membership is comprised, among others, of the major biopharmaceutical and medical industry firms and includes most higher learning institutions of the Metropolitan Region.

Large numbers of professionals, including architects, civil engineers, urban planning consultants and real estate promoters of the greater Montreal Region are also members of the Board of Trade.

Moreover, some of the valued partners of the Board of Trade include the Urban Development Institute (UDI), the Builders, Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and organizations such as Les Amis de la Montagne and Héritage Montreal.

The Board of Trade views Montreal's urban configuration and architectural inventory as highly valuable assets of prime importance to enhance the Metropolis' competitive edge. This position of the Board has been the driving force of its involvement - on several occasions - in matters and issues pertaining to the harmony and cohesiveness of Montreal's urban environment.

Furthermore, the Board of Trade has the support of its own public affairs committees where a number of professionals from various backgrounds and areas of economic activity focus on specific issues. Two such committees, the Health committee and the Municipal Taxation committee have contributed to this submission.

The Board on Trade will limit the scope of its comments on the issues surrounding the re-use of the buildings currently housing the McGill University Health Center (MUHC), without entering the debate on technical considerations, which are best left to the expertise of promoters or professional organizations.

In the eyes of the Board of Trade, the true issue at stake is that the leading health care institutions of the Metropolitan Region have the means and power to uphold their traditions and reputation for excellence on a national and international scale and the capacity to provide the population with high-quality services; that the city becomes richer with the quality of its heritage buildings and landmarks while preserving their outstanding features, as in the case of the Mont Royal Park, and enhancing them.


2 - SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

3 - A COMMENDABLE PROCESS

4 - THE BOARD OF TRADE SUPPORTS THE NEW HOSPITAL COMPLEX PROJECT

5 - A TWO-SIDED CHALLENGE:
CREATING A NEW, DEFINING HOSPITAL, AND RECYCLING MAJOR, HERITAGE BUILDINGS


6 - RE-USE OF THE PRESENT BUILDINGS : TURNING THEM INTO RESIDENTIAL UNITS IS MOST FEASIBLE OPTION

7 - IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE MONT ROYAL PARK AND SAFEGUARDING IT

8 - THE MUHC AND McGILL UNIVERSITY MUST COMPLETE DEVELOPMENT AND ARCHITECTURAL PLANS

9 - COLLABORATION FROM THE CITY OF MONTREAL : TAX CONSIDERATIONS


2 - SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONSI. Further to studies undertaken and released by the MUHC, the Board of Trade believes that the majority of buildings to become vacant further to the construction of a modern hospital housing the MUHC's institutions should be recycled as residential, institutional or mixed-use facilities, as this is more compatible with the type of construction housing traditional hospitals whose mission as accommodation facilities used to be a significant consideration. The availability of some 3 million sq. ft. of recycled space coming to the market would be easily absorbed by both the residential and the commercial markets, especially in view of the location within or directly adjacent to the Mont Royal Park.

II. The Board of Trade believes that the conversion of buildings, especially those of the Royal Victoria complex and of the General Hospital is a step taken toward the beautification of the Mont Royal Park. It also improves access to the park , especially where the Royal Victoria buildings are concerned, as they are for all purpose already part of that park.

III. The Board of Trade considers it is highly desirable that sub-divide the locations and parcel them according to logical boundaries, in order to pave the way for a number of superior projects to be taken up by various promoters.

IV. The Board of Trade believes it is the responsibility of the MUHC, with the participation of McGill University and other partners having recognized expertise in planning, urban environment, architecture, real estate development and project management, to set up a redevelopment plan backed up by an architectural program, that would become the disciplined framework to be used in implementing renovation and re-use projects. This developmental framework should include the main features of a quality-control process designed to ensure all projects are in full harmony with their surroundings. The MUHC should work in close co-operation with the City of Montreal in designing its plans, while remaining the undisputed project driver.

V. The Board of Trade is in favour of a development plan comprised of a succession of projects and phases. The recycling of the buildings currently housing the MUHC is a large-scale project whose importance is of such a magnitude that any shortcut, any architectural or environmental compromise, dictated by financial reasons, must be avoided at all costs. For that purpose, the MUHC should perhaps plan to retain control of certain facilities, including at least the Royal Victoria complex, until projects arrive at a stage where one can rest assured the renovation process is actually of the highest quality. This solution also has tax benefits that may give rise to compensation by promoters.

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3 - A COMMENDABLE PROCESSThe Board of Trade wishes to congratulate the management of the McGill University Health Center and its member institutions, as well as their community, for having succeeded in reaching a consensus on the opportunity of bringing together the institutions within one single hospital complex that makes full use of the latest technological solutions available and is thus capable of providing highly efficient health care.

The process that led to this consensus, the firm decisions taken by the MUHC's management on the construction and location of the future hospital complex call for our deep respect. The Board of Trade believes that the decisions made to date have been rational and to the benefit of both the MUHC's users and the quality of university education it offers. The entire project will also prove beneficial to Montreal's population at large.

We are also very pleased of the fact that the project's masters have demonstrated their commitment to being open about how they conduct their business and holding public hearings on the re-use of the existing buildings.

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4 - THE BOARD OF TRADE SUPPORTS THE NEW HOSPITAL COMPLEX PROJECT The Board of Trade has found, as the MUHC management did, that the buildings currently housing the various institutions making up the MUHC are not consistent with the demands of modern medicine and an efficient health care delivery system. Various engineering studies and analysis of architectural structures completed over the past few years show that the buildings now in use do not allow for implementing efficient services such as, for instance, the regrouping of emergency facilities, intensive care units, trauma units and operating rooms in a common area. Furthermore, a number of makeovers in recent years have been detrimental to the buildings' architectural quality and the integrity of the urban environment. The access between various services inside these buildings has become a matter of coping with a complex maze. This places significant barriers to the use of high tech equipment and to increased outpatient care.

In the Board of Trade's opinion, it is high time that Montreal, being a high technology, world-class Metropolis in the fields of medicine, the development of new drugs and genomics research, be endowed with hospital facilities that can accommodate the technological evolution to be expected looking ahead, to the benefit of both the population and the health care industry.

For all these reasons, we support the creation of a new MUHC hospital complex. The chosen location offers many advantages, especially where access is concerned. It is well-suited to building a new hospital complex that will prove to be a strong value-added for Montreal.

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5 - A TWO-SIDED CHALLENGE:
CREATING A NEW, DEFINING HOSPITAL, AND RECYCLING MAJOR, HERITAGE BUILDINGS
The Board of Trade finds that as they made their decision, the management of the MUHC took on a two-sided, large-scale urban environment and architectural challenge that has different requirements.

The construction in Montreal of the first new hospital complex since many decades - a university health care complex offering front-line and second and third-tier type services, fundamental and applied research, as well as outpatient care - constitutes a sizeable investment that will contribute to Montreal's economic health during the entire project's period.

This new hospital will have to be successfully distinctive in terms of its architecture, its integration within the existing urban environment, and the nature of its facilities, as well as in terms of its high scientific value. It cannot be tainted in any way by mediocrity.

At the same time, the management of the MUHC is getting ready to recycle a number of historic, heritage-grade buildings representing total usable space of some 3.3 million sq. ft. This is quite probably one of the most ambitious building recycling project ever undertaken.

This too is a major challenge. The project must be conducted with utmost care in order to enhance the heritage value and create a sense of pride among Montrealers, especially those who are active contributors to the city's preservation and heritage.

The re-use project must be a showcase for the creativity of our urban environment professionals, our architects and our promoters. It must become a world-class project, a milestone. We believe the management of the MUHC is very much aware of this two-sided challenge.

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6 - RE-USE OF THE PRESENT BUILDINGS : TURNING THEM INTO RESIDENTIAL UNITS IS MOST FEASIBLE OPTION The re-use of the present buildings as residential units appears to be the most feasible option as well as the most logical for a majority of them, on the following grounds:

  • Studies have shown that present buildings have severe deficiencies from the point of view of using them to house medical facilities requiring the use of current technologies and procedures.
  • Contrary to the case of the CHUM, the Régie régionale de la Santé et des services sociaux du Montréal Métropolitain has not indicated to this day it has any intention of continuing to use the buildings for medical purposes.
  • For the most part, the buildings do not possess the features that would make them attractive commercial-type buildings, at least where standard office space is concerned. Furthermore, they are not located near the infrastructures and concentration of services usually associated with the environment of office buildings.
  • Also, the buildings have a total space of some 3.3 million sq. ft and that would be too large an offering on the commercial real estate market at a time when other office space is being planned, including the Cité du commerce électronique and other buildings.
  • However, the outstanding quality of both locations, that is the Royal Victoria complex and the general Hospital, gives rise to very attractive possibilities, especially when thinking of medium to high range apartments and residential units.
  • A residential vocation for these buildings would be more in keeping with their original function as at the time they were built, hospitals had many of the characteristics medium-term accommodation.
  • Turning the buildings into residential units would not result in any strain on their surroundings.

    However, the Board of Trade has no intention to oppose any mixed use, nor in some cases, any use that involves some form of medical vocation, as long as these would not entail the disfigurement of these heritage and/or historical buildings and their surroundings, and as long as they will not jeopardize the MUHC's financial situation.

    Examples of mixed use would be:
  • partial use for students' quarters;
  • re-development into home for seniors (a proposal has been brought forward with regard to the Children's Hospital and one aisle of the General Hospital);
  • facilities housing prestigious international organizations such as, for example, agencies of the United Nations;
  • re-development of one of the buildings as a hotel, under certain conditions;
  • facilities used by a higher learning institution.
  • Recommendation:

    I. Further to studies undertaken and released by the MUHC, the Board of Trade believes that the majority of buildings to become vacant further to the construction of a modern hospital housing the MUHC's institutions should be recycled as residential, institutional or mixed-use facilities, as this is more compatible with the type of construction housing traditional hospitals whose mission as accommodation facilities used to be a significant consideration. The availability of some 3 million sq. ft. of recycled space coming to the market would be easily absorbed by both the residential and the commercial markets, especially in view of the location within or directly adjacent to the Mont Royal Park.


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    7 - IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE MONT ROYAL PARK AND SAFEGUARDING IT The three medical institutions currently united under the MUHC - the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Hôpital Neurologique and the Montreal General Hospital are all located on the Mont Royal's slopes. In the opinion of the Board of Trade, it is crucial that the recycling of these buildings becomes an occasion of beautification of their location, of safeguarding the integrity of the Park and of providing even better access to the Park.

    This means the Mont Royal Park being contiguous to the Royal Victoria Hospital, could gain two new entrances as the buildings are renovated. The Mont Royal Park is Montreal's magnificent jewel and it is a world-class asset of a scope comparable to Central Park, Hyde Park, the Bois de Boulogne or Stanley Park in Vancouver. It is absolutely imperative that when renovating the buildings, not a single tree of the Park suffers.

    The renovation of the main Royal Victoria buildings to restore them to their full Scottish Baronial architectural splendor could well bring them in full harmony with their Park setting.

    Finally, the conversion of the General Hospital into residential units would be an excellent opportunity to create a wealth of green space around it, thus enhancing its environmental aspect, to the benefit of the neighbouring dwellings and institutions. In any case, it would be most appropriate to rid it of its surface parking area.

    Recommendation:

    II - The Board of Trade believes that the conversion of buildings, especially those of the Royal Victoria complex and of the General Hospital is a step taken toward the beautification of the Mont Royal Park. It also improves access to the park , especially where the Royal Victoria buildings are concerned, as they are for all purpose already part of that park.


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    8 - THE MUHC AND McGILL UNIVERSITY MUST COMPLETE DEVELOPMENT AND ARCHITECTURAL PLANS As stated by the Board of Trade, the recycling of the medical buildings currently housing the MUHC institutions is a major challenge for the MUHC management, as well as a major issue for all Montrealers. The project must be carefully developed and orchestrated if it is to leave no room for the type of mistakes we have witnessed in Montreal in recent years when heritage buildings were haphazardly transformed into residential units: grand old trees hacked down without permit, architectural mish mash exemplifying bad taste, wrong types of windows, tasteless finishing touches, etc.

    In order to ensure that a construction project of this magnitude will be completed in a disciplined manner and will result in high-quality work being performed with due consideration to the historical nature of the buildings, the Board of Trade believes it is crucial that the MUHC should retain control over the overall project - without however substituting to promoters - through a fiduciary entrusted with overseeing the project's completion.

    A project of this scope, as the report by urban planners and architects Lecavalier, Lalonde, Saïa & Barbarese points out, requires a full-scale development plan to be laid out, together with an architectural program and a completion plan. This overall plan should include a design proposal that is to be part of the on-going public hearings process of the City of Montreal.

    This core development plan must specifically address the following issues:

  • financial impact;
  • urban homogeneity;
  • architectural quality; and
  • environmental merit.

    The Board of Trade believes that the MUHC already has a large quantity of information to allow it to consider the development of such a plan and a project summary that would list the main features of the various schemes under consideration for the conversion of the buildings into residential units or other uses.

    This program would, among other considerations, lay out the perimeter of each building to be protected and/or renovated, including outbuildings and subsidiary structures, monumental railings and gates, sheds, gardens, etc. to be carefully preserved.

    It must also include indications on the buildings that have been identified in prior studies commissioned by the MUHC as candidates for demolition in order to enhance the architectural value of the heritage structures or of the buildings located on the slopes of Mont Royal Park.

    The plan must include an assessment of the various phases involved in the recycling and renovation of the buildings, in order to facilitate the completion of the various projects within a reasonable time frame.

    Also, the institutions should be subjected to a logical subdivision process designed to allow several developers to participate in the overall project and thus avoid that a single promoter should have the burden of carrying out an entire project whose magnitude may exceed his capacity to cope.

    Recommendations:

    III - The Board of Trade considers it is highly desirable that sub-divide the locations and parcel them according to logical boundaries, in order to pave the way for a number of superior projects to be taken up by various promoters.

    IV - The Board of Trade believes it is the responsibility of the MUHC, with the participation of McGill University and other partners having recognized expertise in planning, urban environment, architecture, real estate development and project management, to set up a redevelopment plan backed up by an architectural program, that would become the disciplined framework to be used in implementing renovation and re-use projects. This developmental framework should include the main features of a quality-control process designed to ensure all projects are in full harmony with their surroundings. The MUHC should work in close co-operation with the City of Montreal in designing its plans, while remaining the undisputed project driver.


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    9 - COLLABORATION FROM THE CITY OF MONTREAL : TAX CONSIDERATIONS The Board of Trade is of the opinion that the promoters submitting projects for the re-development, renovation and recycling of the buildings must have the capacity of completing these projects within reasonable time frames while not having to cut corners. Also, the MUHC should not suffer financially from the new vocation of the buildings, and it should not be made liable for large amounts of taxes during the period of time required for the work to be completed. Arrangements to that purpose should be contemplated.

    Recommendation:

    V - The Board of Trade is in favour of a development plan comprised of a succession of projects and phases. The recycling of the buildings currently housing the MUHC is a large-scale project whose importance is of such a magnitude that any shortcut, any architectural or environmental compromise, dictated by financial reasons, must be avoided at all costs. For that purpose, the MUHC should perhaps plan to retain control of certain facilities, including at least the Royal Victoria complex, until projects arrive at a stage where one can rest assured the renovation process is actually of the highest quality. This solution also has tax benefits that mat give rise to a compensation by promoters.


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