Jacques-André Dupont, President and CEO, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Francos de Montréal et MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE and 8 additional signatories*
Condominium and office towers built and planned, the massive arrival of new restaurants and stores, various construction sites: there is no doubt that since they were created in 2009, the Quartier des spectacles and its Place des Festivals have led to important development in the heart of Montreal. Which is a good thing!
Event directors are happy to have played a part in that by organizing popular gatherings that have become tourism draws. They want to maintain momentum over the coming decades. That is also the wish of the various partner organizations that are committed to keeping the tourism boom and economic growth of our city going.
Unfortunately, today, they must all take note of the counterpart of this huge expansion: the future of festivals with an important free component, in this neighbourhood that was developed at the cost of $200 million, is less guaranteed than ever.
First, from a strictly operational point of view, the empty lots that were used for secondary stages as well as the much-needed “backstage” areas have disappeared because they have been built on. Indeed, the maximum space available for festivals has gone from 1,000,000 square feet in 2007 to 500,000 square feet next summer. Thankfully, this has already led the city to actively look for solutions to the problem.
But there is worse. The whole business model of events featuring an important free component is threatened. For instance, upon its arrival in the neighbourhood in 1986 — which was then a culinary desert — the Jazz Festival could rely on income from food, drink and merchandise sales to finance a good portion of the free activities offered to festival-goers.
The income from the outdoor sites of some festivals has fallen by more than half with the arrival of dozens of restaurants and stores that, rightly so, do extremely well during the events. That is a good thing for the urban landscape, the economy and the vitality of the neighbourhood, as well as for the City of Montreal, which collects more property tax revenues, but it has an increasingly perverse effect.
After losing most of the income of its site to neighbouring restaurants and stores, the Jazz Festival, for instance, faces an annual shortfall of several millions of dollars, while it must assume all of the costs, which keep growing. Those costs are related to the programming, of course, but also to the technical and infrastructure elements needed to welcome festival-goers, to ensure their safety, to innovate, and to cover other unavoidable expenses.
The Quartier des spectacles festivals are among the most important in the country or even the world. Together, they create economic and tourism benefits that exceed $100 million annually, while giving citizens free access to high-quality events, concerts and shows. They also generate huge benefits for the artists, artisans and employees who perform or are employed every year.
Today, the success of the Quartier des spectacles has created an important imbalance, which is putting some of our city’s key events at risk. That is why we are making an urgent appeal to public decision-makers and other stakeholders from the business community. In short, to everyone who is committed to the image of Montreal, its economic and tourism development, the important benefits generated by festivals and events — including on a social and cultural level — and the vitality of its downtown area.
This piece is co-signed by Michel Leblanc, president and chief executive officer, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal; Yves Lalumière, chief executive officer, Tourisme Montréal; Ève Paré, chief executive officer, Association des hôtels du Grand Montréal; Jacques Primeau, chairman of the board, Quartier des Spectacles Partnership; Martin Roy, chief executive officer, Regroupement des événements majeurs internationaux (RÉMI); Fashion & Design Festival; Montréal complètement Cirque, Just for Laughs; Festival international Nuits D’Afrique.