Brownstein: City makes it easier to shop, dine out downtown

Motorists can drop off their vehicles at either the corners of Ste-Catherine and Mansfield Sts. or de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Bleury St. on weekend.

A new city initiative offers weekend valet parking in downtown Montreal. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

It appears to have been one of the best-kept secrets in town: the city has been offering a valet parking service on weekends downtown for the last few weeks. One might have expected the Projet Montréal team, so often accused of being anti-car, to shriek this out from the top of Place Ville Marie.

Not surprisingly, few in the area seemed remotely aware when informed of it this week. Responses ranged from: “Really?” to “Can’t hurt” to the more whimsical “Will I ever see my car again?” But most viewed it as a positive initiative.

The plan is to induce motorists otherwise skeptical or terrified of driving into the city centre, in light of ongoing construction on Ste-Catherine St. W., to head downtown to shop and spur much-needed business for beleaguered shop and restaurant owners.

Motorists can drop off their vehicles at either the corners of Ste-Catherine and Mansfield Sts. or de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Bleury St. Valets will then park the cars in one of two nearby outdoor lots or one of 15 underground garages.

A new city initiative to encourage shoppers to come downtown offers valet parking to Montrealers on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

Cost is $15 for the day, covering Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. But if motorists offer proof of purchases in the form of a validation stamp from downtown merchants or restaurateurs, the price drops to $8.

In theory, this is a fine enticement — for now. All the more so since Phase 1 of the construction project, between Mansfield and Bleury Sts. and expected to be completed in two years, will see Ste-Catherine St. reduced to one driving lane and the elimination of 140 parking spots. Street parking will be verboten on this 670-metre stretch.

Sure, it would be better still if the city nixed street parking charges altogether on Sundays, as is the case in some suburbs.

Frankly, though, even with such incentives, it could still be a challenge to get some motorists downtown for $8 when they can head to the malls of the South Shore, West Island and Laval for nothing and cop similar merchandise and meals.

Also worth noting is that the wait for motorists to pick up their vehicles at the end of the day at the designated downtown valet-parking points is estimated to be between 10 and 15 minutes, and we all know how impatient our drivers can be.

The other fear for some, particularly for those driving high-end vehicles, is the image of some hotshot valet going all Ferris Bueller on them and taking their roadsters on a devil-may-care spin through the city.

Long term, this valet-parking plan could get dicey, particularly when Phase 2 of the Ste-Catherine St. construction project, the 1.7-kilometre stretch from Mansfield to Atwater Sts., begins after 2022. In that area, there is already a dearth of outdoor and indoor parking.

Robert Beaudry, a Projet Montréal councillor in the Ville-Marie borough and its point person for downtown mobility, notes that valet parking had been previously implemented to good effect in other parts of the city, like Little Italy.

It’s just one more mobility option for consumers, but it’s not the only option.”

“It’s just one more mobility option for consumers, but it’s not the only option: we have excellent public transport in the downtown area, particularly with all the métro stations, and then there’s cycling and walking options, too,” Beaudry said. “But we do recognize that for many people driving is the preferred mode to go downtown and we acknowledge that. Hopefully, the valet parking will also help bring business downtown.”

Beaudry is abundantly aware of the importance of keeping the downtown core vibrant and avoiding a mass exodus of consumers to the ‘burbs. He also points out that the city offered compensation last year to downtown merchants, up to $30,000 a year for business losses because of roadwork. (Unfortunately, that was too late for a number of downtown merchants, who went out of business.)

As for parking issues with the advent of Phase 2, Beaudry indicates that different plans are under consideration, but he believes parking there will be less problematic than it is in the Phase 1 area.


“But it’s not just parking we must deal with in getting people downtown, we have to improve the consumer experience,” Beaudry said. “I believe when the construction is finally finished, it will be a game-changer for all the merchants and we’re looking at all kinds of measures now that will help them get through these hard times.

“We are very well aware of the importance of the downtown cultural dynamic and when the construction is finished, I’m very confident we can get back all those consumers who left for other parts, and downtown will be stronger than ever.”

From his lips to the wallets of exasperated merchants.

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