Old NFB building could become housing project, developer says

Old NFB building could become housing project, developer says

Old NFB building could become housing project, developer says

Transformation work on the former National Film Board facility in St-Laurent is tentatively scheduled to start in 2025.

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Hundreds of Montreal families could one day live on the site of the former National Film Board headquarters near Highway 40 in St-Laurent.

Housing is one of the main options under consideration as new owner Canada Lands Co. (CLC) embarks on what it calls a “major transformation” of the 4.9-hectare facility over the next decade. Montrealers are invited to see its six pavilions for themselves Friday and Saturday, when one-hour tours will be offered.

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“We do understand that there is a housing crisis, and we’re committed to doing our part,” Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, a spokesman for the federal Crown corporation, said in an interview. “Housing units are a top priority for us.”

CLC is at the start of what it calls a “public engagement process” that will probably last until mid-2024. Residents, community groups, experts, small businesses and other stakeholders will all be invited to share their views on the future redevelopment, Gomez-Wiuckstern said. A public workshop will be held at the location Jan. 24.

The front of the old NFB building with a snow-covered sign that says: Edifice John Grierson
“We want to hear people’s aspirations and their needs,” Canada Lands Co. says of plans for the old NFB building. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

“We want to hear people’s aspirations and their needs,” Gomez-Wiuckstern said. “What are the priorities in terms of housing, transportation, parks, small businesses, economic development and job creation? Can we commemorate the legacy of the National Film Board and what it represented for the area?”

Redeveloping the NFB facility represents “a unique opportunity,” St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa said Tuesday in a separate interview. “We want the best possible project, but it’s one piece of a bigger puzzle. How does it fit into the overall neighbourhood development? We’re going to need to think through in a methodical way how we can maximize the potential benefits of the site.”

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Aerial view of the NFB facility in Montreal.
The former National Film Board site is a 4.9-hectare facility. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

The property at 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Rd. has been vacant since 2019, when the NFB moved to a new office tower in the Quartier des spectacles downtown.

Toronto-based CLC acquired the massive site from Public Services and Procurement Canada in December 2022 for an undisclosed amount. Offices, studios, projection rooms, refrigerated vaults, a cafeteria, a hangar and a movie theatre are all part of the complex.

Although terms of the sale were private, a six-storey property at 3077-3155 Côte-de-Liesse is valued at $26.9 million, according to the current municipal valuation roll.

A master plan, which will define the development and urban design criteria, is being created for the NFB site.

Transformation work is tentatively scheduled to start in 2025, after municipal authorities have approved the master plan. CLC will “work hand in hand” with Montreal and St-Laurent on the redevelopment, Gomez-Wiuckstern said. It’s too early to estimate the costs associated with the revamp, or to say which pavilions will be kept, because the NFB complex is classified as a federal heritage building.

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Key objectives of the project include tackling the housing crisis through the addition of both affordable and market units, encouraging economic development and artistic use of the site, and creating a living environment that’s open to the community and its needs, CLC says.

DeSousa says an architecture and urban planning firm has already produced a report on redevelopment scenarios. Besides residential units, potential additions include artist workshops, community spaces, gardens, sports facilities, a daycare, a school and retail businesses, though heritage constraints may limit repurposing options, he said.

“This report is not the definitive piece, but it’s a good starting point,” DeSousa said. “We’ll have to establish what are the pieces that are appropriate to consider. The site itself probably will not be able to meet all the different needs that have been expressed. Hopefully it will meet most people’s expectations.”

man on scaffold removing NFB sign from building
The “Man Seeing” logo is removed for cleaning from the National Film Board of Canada’s headquarters in the St. Laurent area of Montreal Montreal Wednesday, April 24, 2019. It was designed by Georges Beaupré and installed on the facade of the NFB headquarters at 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road in Montreal during the 1970s. Photo by John Kenney /Montreal Gazette

The former NFB headquarters are next to the Réseau express métropolitain’s future Côte-de-Liesse station. The stop is on a section of the light-rail network that’s scheduled to open by the end of 2024.

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Having a REM station nearby “only enhances the site,” DeSousa said. “It opens up so many possibilities if the REM is within walking distance.”

Given the size of the property, “potentially there is room for hundreds of residential units,” Gomez-Wiuckstern said.

CLC is committed to respecting Montreal’s “20-20-20” bylaw, which requires developers to include social, affordable and family housing in new projects, he added.

Urban planners have already been brought in to help CLC understand the site’s layout. Because the facility is very close to Highway 40, “housing might be best suited to be at the back of the site,” Gomez-Wiuckstern said.

An environmental study will be conducted to evaluate air quality, DeSousa said.

“The proximity to the autoroute raises questions,” he said. “Are there going to be emissions? What are going to be the impacts on the health of any residents who might ultimately locate there? I don’t want to be alarmist. I just don’t know at this point.”

Once redevelopment plans have been approved, CLC will divide the land into parcels. Lots destined for residential or commercial use will then be sold “in a fair and transparent process” to market participants, Gomez-Wiuckstern said.

Since CLC is self-financed, “everything we do has a commercial mandate,” he said.

The NFB site is one of about 20 active development projects CLC is overseeing. They include real estate in Montreal’s Wellington Basin, the Old Port’s iconic Silo No. 5 and the Pointe-de-Longueuil on the South Shore.

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