If the mayor and his administration thought delaying the voting portions of Monday’s City Council meeting to the next morning would silence debate on the appropriation of the land where Café Cleopatra and the Montreal Pool Room now sit, they were wrong. Yes, items 20.39 and 20.50 on the meeting’s agenda did pass, but it wasn’t without a fight.
Three members of the Save The Main Coalition who didn’t get the chance to speak the night before did in the public question period that started this meeting.
Café Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis, who stands to lose his livelihood and his spot on the main which he has held for over 20 years if Angus is allowed to proceed, was first. He asked why the city decided to bring in a developer who had no history in the neighbourhood instead of talking to the people who live and work there.
Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis addresses the council
The mayor wasn’t taking any questions from the public this time around. André Lavallée responded instead, stating that Angus had a deal with Hydro-Québec and that the city held public consultation meetings, not mentioning why the OCPM recommendations weren’t followed.
Historian Viviane Namaste from Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir institute spoke next and asked how the city could push ahead with a project when all the information wasn’t in yet, namely the historical contents found insite the buildings set to be expropriated. She also asked how this project fit into the Orientation of Urbanism program and mentioned the businesses that didn’t want to leave.
Lavallée responded by saying that there were some decisions which still had to be taken, without addressing that his party had already reached their decision. He also said that the city was trying to relocate some of the cultural activities slated to be moved.
Velma Candyass of the Dead Doll Dancers followed brought up the fact that the proposed size of the new building would mean that the Monument Nationale theatre would no longer be the anchor on the block. She followed up by asking why there wasn’t an open bid on the project.
Lavallée agreed that the Monument Nationale issue was important and needed to be worked out then claimed that the project started with Angus reaching a deal with Hydro-Québec and then approaching the city. It’s important to note that this statement contradicts an earlier report that it was the Tremblay administration who first approached Angus head Christian Yaccarini about the project through Benoit Labonte before he changed parties to Vision Montreal.
You can watch the question period here (right-click, save as, Windows Media format), beginning with the start of the session and Zoumboulakis’ question.
The public question period ended without any real answers to these questions and now it was up to the politicians to object to the projectâ€¦and they did.
Richard Bergeron, leader of Projet Montreal and current mayoral candidate, decided to intervene on motion 20.39, which authorizes the development agreement with Angus, linking it with 20.50 authorizing the expropriation of existing businesses and 20.40 dealing with a contract in Verdun. He brought up doubt on whether or not the developer Angus actually owned 60% of the businesses on the terrain.
Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron addresses the council
He also spoke of how the Montreal Pool Room hot dog joint, which he referred to as the MPR, was a regular hangout for taxi drivers (yes, the man who rides a bike and brought you the tramway idea used to drive a cab). He also reminisced about how his father took him to Cafe Cleopatre when he was young and told the council that every time passes in front of the Cleo, he thinks of his father.
Villeray/St-Michel/Park Extension Borough Mayor Anie Samson of Vision Montreal intervened on 20.50, mentioning the OCPM meetings and how they were ignored in favor of ramming through the project. She also mentioned the recent statement by several prominent groups against the project. Fellow Vison councilor Soraya Martinez also objected.
Despite opposition, motion 20.39 passed 40-7 and motion 20.50 passed 38-8.
You can watch the debate here starting at around the 23 minute mark (right click, “save as” Windows Media format).
That doesn’t mean that all is lost for Café Cleopatre, the Montreal Pool Room and the lower Main in general, far from it. This is the start of an election campaign that is bound to be bitter and hard-fought.
If another party comes to power, they could very well decide to listen to the OCPM and send the Angus plan back to the drawing board or maybe even consider other revitalization options for that part of the Quartier des Spectacles other than an office tower.