Fresh Takes

The Hippodrome Saga: Almost 14 Years Running in Place

This is the story of a parcel of land that’s been sitting vacant for nearly 14 years, right in the heart of a city in search of housing.

The former Blue Bonnets Hippodrome is a rare site in a big city. It’s a 43-hectare uncontaminated vacant lot, just metres away from stores and restaurants, a highway, and a subway station.

For a real estate developer, it’s a dream lot on which to build a large number of units. According to the City of Montreal, developing the site could make some 6,000 new homes available for Montrealers.

And yet, even though the land—owned by the City of Montreal—has been abandoned since 2009, nothing has been done. No takers have been found.

It must be mentioned that the City took its time before trying to develop the land. After a dozen years of promises, it finally put the two first plots on sale in the summer and fall of 2022.

Of these plots, the one offered to private promoters has received no submissions. Why is that?

At least to some extent, it’s the City’s own fault. The call for tenders was so full of burdensome conditions that, despite the land’s natural attractiveness, no developer wanted to submit a bid.

To do so, a developer had to commit to setting aside 60% of units for the City’s “affordable” category—read “under market”—for a minimum of 30 years. To recoup their investment, developers would therefore only be able to count on the remaining 40% of units.

On top of this, there’s the sale price of $10 million (or $55 per square foot), the other regulatory costs imposed by the municipal government, and the vagueness surrounding the development of the rest of the neighbourhood, which is supposed to become a carbon-neutral living environment based on active transportation and public transit.

For developers, the cost and the risk were just too high for the potential reward they might reap. They’ve therefore chosen to give it a pass.

The Hippodrome may be the location where the City’s housing restrictions have done the most harm, and attracted the most attention. Yet it’s just one example of the municipal government obstructing those who want to build homes for Montrealers.

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