What does the future hold for downtown office towers?

3 minutes

Chloe Machillot

The return of workers will be essential to relaunching the downtown core. But to convince them to come back to work in person, office towers will need to offer an environment that is both attractive and safe.It’s a goal that brings its share of challenges as well as opportunities.

“Since last spring, we’ve been aware of how much the downtown area has declined and of the need to find strategies for bringing workers back,” says Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of Metropolitan Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce (CCMM). “That’s a huge job, but we’re already developing several projects to help companies bring their employees back to the office.”

Filling vacancies

Through its “I love working downtown” action plan, the CCMM aims to help new businesses move into the area by subletting surplus office space from already-established companies.

We know that some of the employees located downtown before the pandemic will not be coming back, but the economy abhors a vacuum: these departures present an opportunity to other players who couldn’t afford to rent downtown spaces; to work downtown,” continues Leblanc. He explains that these new arrivals might not only represent a solution to the vacancies on some office tower floors, they can also create alliances that will be very stimulating to downtown business activity.

Michel Leblanc
Michel Leblanc

For example, the heads of some of the big banks are open to welcoming fintech start-ups, thereby becoming incubators of small businesses in a domain related to finance,” suggests Leblanc. “Imagine the innovation and dynamism created by synergies between traditional sectors and new innovative ones!”

In the same spirit, several agencies, such as Cossette, Vision7 International, Septième, Jungle, K72, and Citoyen have already announced their collective move to new spaces in WeWork, in the heart of downtown, beginning this December.

Rethinking the office

Since many employees will now have the choice of working from home or at the office, the latter will need to become more attractive than ever. Spacious, brightly lit workspaces, local ser­vices… Environment and wellness were already growing concerns, but now they’ve become absolute priorities. Ivanhoé Cambridge has been working for years to develop cutting-edge workspaces, but the pandemic definitely accelerated that interest.

The company’s Projet Nouveau Centre represents an investment of over $1 million towards reenergizing the downtown core and the four properties that compose it: Place Ville Marie, the Eaton Centre, Maison Manuvie, and the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. “This project gives us the possi­bi­l­­­ityof experimenting with design, construction and in terms of professional services,” states Gabrielle Meloche, Senior Advisor in Public Affairs, Advertising and Communications at Ivanhoé Cambridge. “The knowledge we’ll acquire as a result of this project can then be applied to our other properties and initiatives around the world.”

Renovate heritage

As proof that downtown’s office towers haven’t run out of opportunities, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) just unveiled a 25-storey office tower construction project, to be completed by 2027. Soon to be in the public consultation stage, this project aims to offer “a leading-edge work environment” in order to “respond to the changing expectations of users of office space” by emphasizing the importance of wellbeing

The issue of office safety is also inescapable. “We’ve already contacted around twenty major employers to get an idea of what they would like to implement, while still complying with health regulations,” says Leblanc. “The trend that’s becoming apparent is that many want to return to the office so they can have better conversations with their colleagues, so we’re thinking about reinventing places for meetings and gatherings so they can be safer.”

Dynamic public spaces

The environment and attractions around the office will be used as incentives to convince emplo­yees to return to work downtown. The municipality has also recently unveiled a $25-million plan to enhance the area’s attractions this summer. “We’re putting in place every measure to avoid a cycle of devitalization downtown,” confirms Luc Rabouin, the Executive Committee Member in charge of economic development.

Attract customers

Support from the City will be in the form of financial aid to retailers and restaurateurs in order to help them adapt their premises to health regulations, the planning of pedestrian walkways and terraces that are ideal for social distancing, as well as the organization of artistic and cultural events, and even outdoor workspaces for employees!

“We’re going to ensure that the work experience will be the best possible,” states Glenn Castanheira, Executive Director of Société de Développement Commercial Montréal Centre-Ville. “Downtown will continue to attract people because it offers a stimu­lating work environment, with nearby services and the possibility of physical, human contact that can’t be found anywhere else.”

Glenn Castanheira
Glenn Castanheira