Montreal's long-abandoned Viger Square Hotel is proof that you can be beautiful and yet still ignored and despised.
The magnificent old CP station hotel, designed by Bruce Price in 1898 to look similar to his Chateau Frontenac Quebec City boardwalk jewel, has been utterly useless since 1935 when the hotel closed.
The hotel was built by CP near its railway station and harbour access, so a passenger could could take a CP ship to Montreal, disembark near the hotel, stay a night or two, and then hop on a CP train out west, although the hotel must've been some sorta noisy judging from all those trains out the window.
The feds took it over and used the property for makeshift housing for war veterans. In later years the City of Montreal used parts of it for administrative offices, something they no longer need, with the creation of a new building just east of city hall.
The city sold the property at a bargain $9 million in 2005 to a consortium which included Richard Homburg, a Dutch real estate mogul based in Halifax.
The sale was notable because our mayor Tremblay tried to keep the evaluation under wraps, but it wasn't necessary because dumping the property to a serious developer was a very good thing.
They gutted the interior in a plan to pour $300-$400 million into building a 250- room hotel, with 1,800 underground parking spaces as well as offices and 200 condos or apartments on the two hectare site, which includes a lot of vacant land out back.
The building was to stand 60 metres tall, above the 44 allowed in the zoning.
Then Ville Marie Borough Mayor Benoit Labonte embraced the project enthusiastically, which is never a good thing because Mayor Tremblay considered Labonte his archenemy and in politics nobody likes to see anything work out well for an opponent.
A neighbourhood impact report was also critical of the plans but it's not really clear whether those critique and suggested tweaks were the dealbreaker.
Homburg stocks took a hit around 2009, going from $48 to $11 and suddenly they couldn't pull off the big project, so they sold it off in Feb. 2012 after putting about $35 million into renos and repairs.
The newest owners, Pur and Jesta, plan to put $450 million into something similar as the old plan, with 700 apartments. They bought the site for $26.5 million, and kept Phil O'Brien in charge.
The new project includes retail and office space as well as those apartments and somebody will undoubtedly gleefully order the developers to include 15 percent welfare housing in the new development as a shiny feather in their do-gooder cap.
The property is on the northeastern edge of Old Montreal but doesn't really feel to be in the heart of the most desirable section of the highly-coveted old city. It's believed that the area will become more desirable when the French superhospital comes on line in 2016 but currently the nearby neighbourhood is a little isolated, the view of the highway isn't spectacular and the area is overrun by derelicts from the various homeless shelters.
Nonetheless the project should be a success if it's ever built and I'm not entirely convinced this project will happen. Getting four hundred million bucks of financing together isn't the easiest thing in the world, as this property proves.