Pellerin: This project shows that affordable housing can be done well

The redevelopment of Place Fleur de Lys is an investment in building true community, an innovation Ottawa can learn from.

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QUEBEC CITY – Everyone agrees that we have a housing crisis on our hands. We also have many underused buildings, especially in cities. The maddening thing is that there is the rare exception when someone is smart enough to put two and two together.

Enter Place Fleur de Lys, a typical American shopping center built in the early 1960s around the corner from the hospital where I was born. When I was a kid, Sears, which used to be one of his anchors, is where most of my clothes came from.

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Place Fleur de Lys is located in the Vanier neighborhood of Quebec City, not far from the Center Vidéotron stadium. The area is not touristy or luxurious. The mall itself is a pile of windowless bricks and a dingy parking lot, overlooking a snow dump. The current mall anchors include a Maxi grocery store, Walmart and JYSK. Savile Row, this is not it.

What Fleur de Lys doesn’t have much of is shoppers buying things. People go to the Galeries de la Capitale, where you will find an IMAX cinema as well as an amusement park, or to the larger cluster of shopping centers along Laurier Boulevard in Ste-Foy, near the bridges and Université Laval .

The Place Fleur de Lys changed owners several times. The current owner, Trudel Innovation, bought it in 2018. Founder and CEO William Trudel told me, when I visited him on Wednesday, that after the company bought the mall, its officials knew they had to do something with him, but they didn’t. I’m not sure exactly what.

They embarked on an extensive public consultation with, well, everyone. Dozens of merchants, some 60 community organizations and stakeholders (2,500 people in total) told the mall’s new owners what they needed.

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In short: housing, including affordable and accessible units, public spaces and services, green space, post-secondary education opportunities, a hotel, and ways to connect area neighborhoods currently separated by an urban freeway, auto sewers, and that giant shopping center.

Last summer, the company unveiled a 10-year, $1.5 billion plan to revitalize the property which features 3,500 new housing units ranging from studios to three bedrooms, including 15 percent affordable units and 10 percent accessible units that will be available to tenants with disabilities at the same price as regular units. A hotel. Reinvented commercial space. Green roofs and over 2,500 trees planted to reduce the heat island effect, entertainment opportunities, office space, a satellite university campus (already operational), and easy connections between neighboring communities.

The first phase of the project, which will allow around 480 homes to be ready by early 2025, is underway. Each of the first two buildings will include fully accessible utilities and some hotel rooms for tenants to use for their guests, at lower prices than a typical hotel.

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The idea is to create a city within the city. This is true community building. Yes, it is an investment and Trudel hopes that it will pay off over time. But to do so, you must first respond to the needs of the community.

In Ottawa, you are starting to see shopping center owners building homes on their properties. These include the new tower at Westgate, the Element complex at Westboro Superstore and a pair of approved towers near Bayshore. It’s good to add housing units, no doubt. But these are buildings in parking lots. Not communities.

William Trudel insists that the key to rejuvenating underperforming shopping centers is to take all the time necessary to make the right inquiries. “It may seem expensive from the beginning,” he says, “but it helps design the best possible project, facilitates discussions with elected officials and shows respect for the community.” Strong community support also helps convince city officials to quickly agree to any necessary zoning changes.

We have struggling shopping centers everywhere and people desperate for affordable housing. The Fleur de Lys example of Quebec City shows that it is possible to put those two and two together and create beautiful, livable communities with those assets and help alleviate the housing crisis, in style.

Brigitte Pellerin (they/them) is a writer from Ottawa.

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