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Next fall there's going to be a little more elbowroom in the McGill and Montreal housing scene. McGill has just announced they've bought up the Renaissance-Montreal Hotel on the corner of Avenue du Parc and Prince-Arthur to convert into a student residence. The university is set to take ownership May 15.
Photo: Owen Egan
The Renaissance will add over 600 new student beds to the currently available 1,750. That means McGill will be able to provide 2,400 spots by move-in day, August 24, guaranteeing spaces for first-year students from outside of the province.
The cost of living at the new res will be comparable to that of Royal Victoria Hall, roughly $8,000 to $9,000 for room and board for eight months.
"We've been looking for years," says Chuck Adler, director of the University Planning Office. Adler, who has a background in engineering and urban planning, has been the university's representative in buying the hotel.
For the past five or six years, McGill has been converting houses into residences, gaining up to 40 spaces a year. But "it became intensely obvious three years ago that we were in a serious deficit," Adler says.
Admissions was the first to raise the flag that the university was losing great students who preferred to go to school where they were guaranteed a spot to stay. Adler says the last two cycles have seen a very tight housing market.
Montreal is no longer the easy-housing mecca of a decade ago. Apartments in hot areas are being transformed into condos, reducing the rental market. Anyone who's tried to find an apartment recently has had to deal with long lineups just to look at a place and landlords who jack up the rent beyond what they should.
"It's a great location," Adler said of the Renaissance. Minutes from school, near shopping, the mountain, the Main, a repertory cinema, a video rental store. Who wouldn't want to live there? No wonder the area is already densely populated with students.
"We fell onto it almost by chance," Adler says. The Renaissance wasn't on the market, but a contact of McGill approached the hotel's owner to see if he'd sell.
"We always thought hotels made a lot of sense. They're set up, there's not a lot of fiddling around, they're available immediately," Adler points out. If McGill were to buy an apartment building, not only would they have the task of moving out the current tenants, they wouldn't be adding housing to the market. A hotel means they're not putting out any Montreal residents, and they're actually freeing up space for other renters by easing the housing burden by hundreds of spaces.
Not only a boon to the university and Montreal, this will also benefit the province. The effect of out-of-province students on the Quebec economy is quite significant, says Andres Friedman, a management student who was hired by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) to study their impact. Any expenditure they make is a net inflow for Quebec, because they're studying here, not in their province back home, he explains. They also bring in friends and family as visitors, boosting tourism. Forty-five percent of Canadian out-of-province students who come to Quebec attend McGill (compared with 15 percent to Concordia University). Also, McGill attracts 35 percent of Quebec's international students.
Morty Yalovsky, vice-principal (administration and finance), says that buying the hotel is financed by McGill's bond issue of last summer. "We're doing with the bond debenture exactly what we intended," he says, which was partly to raise funds for constructing and acquiring new buildings. "This is why we went after the bond market." There's been a lot of hard work on the financial side, he adds, and the involvement of departments from accounting to facilities management is "an illustration of tremendous cooperation."
Florence Tracy, director of residences and student housing, has seen the spaces for students go up from 1,080 when she started as director in 1980. In the 80s, there was so much space that a third of the first-year residence students could elect to return for the next year. She began to see pressure on the residence space during the next decade. Solin Hall, opened in 1990, added 285 spots for students, which has been the largest residence up till now.
"The students will be happy," Tracy says. "I'll be relieved when we get the first group in and settled. We're very excited for this."
Nicholas de Takacsy, associate vice-principal (academic), says that with this added residence, McGill will be able to offer residence space to some non-first-year students. One of "the academic goals of the institution is to increase the number of exchange students and increase internationalization."
Currently, first-year students are housed in different kinds of residences, such as the apartment-style MORE buildings. With the new space, these spots will be freed up which may be more appropriate for upper-year students or graduate students. De Takacsy says that McGill will work to let non-first-year students know that residence living is a possibility for them.
McGill is looking at what's needed for the new space. Already there are touches of luxury that the other residences don't have: air conditioning, double beds and each room has its own bathroom (which the students will have to keep clean themselves). But they'll need more cupboard space, storage and extra desks. Every floor will have kitchenettes, a study room and central hang-out room. A student floor fellow will be assigned to each of the 10 floors, for which they get room and board. The biggest renovation will be for the food services. And there will have to be a two-bedroom director's quarters set up.
Each residence has a director, usually a professor, who lives on site. "It's very rewarding," Tracy says. "The director gets to know students like they are, not as you imagine them to be. We have a marvelous group of directors who are very committed to the students."
Even though this is a splendid addition for McGill's residences, Adler says, "We're still looking for more space." There are plenty of students who could benefit from McGill housing -- upper-year undergrads, first-year graduate students, exchange students, those on transfer or with families -- and the university plans to provide for them all.