St. Patrick’s Basilica’s green space and parking lot are being sold to a French-language business school. The funds will be used for an endowment fund for the downtown Montreal church. Photo courtesy of Robert Cutts via Flickr []

Montreal basilica’s green space sold to business school

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • October 27, 2016

With a potentially expensive court decision looming, Montreal's historic Catholic mother church is selling its valuable green space and adjacent parking lot in the city's downtown core.

The lands next to St. Patrick’s basilica are being sold amid a lawsuit for back taxes the city claims it is owed from proceeds collected from the St. Patrick's parking lot. The church has operated the parking lot tax-free for decades, but now the city claims the parking lot is a business enterprise that should not have been exempt from taxes.

The city is demanding taxes back to 2014, although the dollar amount being sought is unclear. Meantime, St. Patrick's decided to scale back the parking business and use the proceeds from the lands to set up a foundation.

“The sale will secure the financial future of the historic church,” says warden Peter O'Brien.

A French-language business school has purchased the lands following a five-year negotiation. The school was considered preferable to a buyer who would use the space for a high-rise residential or commercial development.

“Our new neighbour is an educational institution, and as such, is much better suited to our mission than were other potential buyers of the property,” O'Brien said.

Previous offers from developers over the years were made to build a condo or a hotel next to the 170-year-old church.

StPatricksChurch-webPhoto by Alan Hustak

The purchaser is HEC Montreal, which operates a university business school. It is making plans for an 18,000 square foot building on the site. Because the deal has not closed, O’Brien would not disclose the sale price.

“At this point that information is confidential in case the option to buy falls through,” he said.

It will take about two years before construction of the new facility begins.

“This is a great day for HEC Montréal and for Quebec’s economic development,” said HEC Montréal director Michel Patry. “We are delighted that HEC Montréal has been authorized to develop a business plan which will allow the school to return to the business district downtown.”

The block along De La Gauchetire St. was originally the site of St. Bridget’s refuge, and later the Father Dowd Home, which was demolished in 1971. The stone footprint of the home and rubble was transformed into a green space in 1997. The area was planted with apple trees in memory of Frank Knowles, a parishioner and former president of Power Corporation.

The scale and design of the new building is expected to respect the basilica’s Gothic architecture and not overwhelm the historic church. The grounds of the church were landscaped in 1925 by renowned urban architect Frederick Todd, but the serpentine paths and formal gardens he designed had disappeared by the 1950s.

It is hoped that what remains of the property can be restored as a park in keeping with the spirit of Todd’s vision.

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