The Quartier international de Montréal (QIM) key success factors

quality, creativity, solidarity and unity of purpose

Clément Demers, General Director, Quartier international de Montréal

Martin Maillet, Project Manager, Special Projects and Communications, Quartier international de Montréal

Bernard La Mothe, Consultant

Introduction

Determining the success factors of a project is an important step in its evaluation and can serve as a guide for future projects. This article aims primarily to define the most critical factors in the success of QIM as a major urban revitalization project, with specific emphasis on factors unique to the project context, as well as more general elements not typically listed as primary factors in management textbooks.

A major urban project designed to increase the appeal and magnetism of a devastated sector

Let's begin with an overview of the challenge we faced: To rehabilitate a zone of 27 hectares, situated between two of the city's most vital tourism sectors (the business core and the historic quarter) in the heart of downtown Montréal and to entrench its vocation (and identity) as the new international district, which, over the years, had already begun to take shape as international organizations set up operations in the area: headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Tour de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Building), World Trade Centre, and the Congress Center… Clients of these prestigious organizations were met with a less than enchanting image of the city. Divided by the trench of an expressway and including no fewer than 30% of vacant pockets of land, the district seemed totally dysfunctional and incoherent. However, the sector was still a focal point of activity, with some 1, 200 businesses including the head offices of some of Montréal's largest media organizations and some of Canada's largest companies.

From this brief description one can infer that the project goal was to take one of the least appealing sectors (yet one of the richest in potential) and transform it into one of the city's most sought-after districts.

How is the Quartier international different from conventional urban projects? A typical urban project can consist, for example, of changing the configuration of a traffic interchange to improve functionality and efficiency. The success of this type of project is measured by greater traffic flow, a reduction in the number of accidents, user satisfaction and other criteria of this type. Such is not the case with the QIM. This is an urban development and revitalization project with a twist, in which high quality design and planning become a lever for public and private development, creating added value for the city and its image which in turn creates an attractive focal point for conventions and tourism and motivates businesses and institutions to establish operations here. The success of this type of project is measured by its direct and indirect economic spinoffs. To effectively understand the difference between these two project types, let's compare the QIM with the “Big Dig” of Boston: the QIM site is 25 times smaller; 250 times less costly … and its spinoffs ten times greater!

In this respect, it is important to emphasize that the project was launched at the right time, in this case in 1997, after a long period of recession when analysts were forecasting an economic recovery. The timing of a long-term project is crucial, and in our case, timing was right on the money, meeting all expectations, which created a positive perception of the project in economic circles, in the media and ultimately in the public opinion. Moreover, while Keynesian theory recommends public investment in an economic slowdown to mitigate loss of activity and employment, the launch of such a project on the edge of a recovery produces spinoffs and chain effects that are much more significant.

Finally, the QIM project is distinguished by the important constraints to which it had to adhere:

•All commercial and economic activity, and traffic (movement of cars and pedestrians) had to operate during construction.

•The sector had to remain accessible at all times, owing to the major events traditionally held in the area (international conventions, demonstrations, events and celebrations, national funerals, etc.).

•Construction focused both on underground infrastructures (métro, expressway, sewers/aqueducts) and “surface” infrastructures (roads, squares, sidewalks, offices), involving both private and public lands.

To convey the complexity of the project, our managers used an evocative image: “It's like doing open heart surgery on a runner in the middle of a marathon!”

A clear vision: superior quality

This kind of project cannot be improvised. It must adhere to a clear, well-articulated and well-considered vision of planning and development.

The current economy increasingly depends on large metropolitan centres, which concentrate activities of high added value such as public and private research and knowledge centres, major financial institutions and a specialized workforce. In this context, each major city competes with others to attract and retain residents, brainpower, businesses, tourists and meeting delegates. Thus, quality urban development is both a factor of attraction and a criterion for location selection. In the field of planning and development, quality implies the larger notion of sustainable development, such as projects geared towards:

accessibility to all modes of transportation: mass transit, pedestrian and automobile transport. In the Quartier international de Montréal, we focused our priorities on pedestrian access (40% increase in sidewalks and pedestrian links), by supporting public transit (development of 12 new métro access points and extension of the indoor pedestrian network by 1.3 km) and by reducing long-term parking (650 spaces eliminated on property made available for development, partially mitigated by construction of underground parking);

services: a multi-functional sector offering a variety of services to attract a diversified clientele so that the area remains a hub of activity day and night. We also focused on increasing services and their level of quality (hotels, restaurants, and public markets);

quality of life: development of public squares displaying all aspects of design (landscaping, urban furniture, infrastructures, public art) created prestigious addresses around these squares, making the area more conducive to real estate investment. In the Quartier international de Montréal, more than 1, 000 upscale residential units were constructed near the new Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, while Square Victoria, dating to the XIXth century, was completely redeveloped. These two squares are now among the most beautiful and most popular in Montréal.

In a context of slow demographic growth, it is incumbent upon the community to choose the best practices and methods, so that such projects do not have to be overhauled in twenty or thirty years. Quality (concept and design, materials, execution and maintenance) is what enables the Quartier international de Montréal to shine as one of the city's major achievements today. It's what will allow the QIM to endure, well beyond ephemeral trends and fashion.

Quality and sustainable development are achieved through the selection of the best in human resources: the best in concept development, the best designers, the best teams and the best coordinators and managers. Such was the case for the QIM: whether it was the architectural firm, the industrial designer, the director orchestrating the project vision, the manager overseeing all project aspects or the highly specialized professionals, we opted, at all levels, for talented people, who are technically competent, experienced, gifted with an artistic sensibility and capable of taking responsibility for all technical and functional aspects. Moreover, we ensured that our human resources received the benefits of ongoing professional development on the job, so as to guarantee both the continuity of the team and the construction schedule.

Selecting the best talent may require a greater outlay of funds initially, but in the medium and long-terms, quality—as opposed to its absence—is an important cost saver. Quality begets quality (as witnessed by the private investment of the Landlords Association in the Quartier international); conversely, the absence of quality can only generate the absence of quality…

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This dynamic concept of quality as a lever for urban development promoted by project management is without a doubt one of the QIM's key success factors.

A conducive legal and social culture

To ensure that such a complex and ambitious project could get off the ground, we knew we had to put an end to the traditional opposition between private and public sectors. For example, pedestrian sidewalks were expanded on private lands, without the requirement that this property be bought from its owners. Similarly, the ventilation of the expressway was ensured via the interior of private buildings to conceal mechanical equipment and preserve the integrity of public spaces.

Such an undertaking, from the legal perspective, obviously relies on securing a multitude of contracts. In this respect, we benefited from a particular legal status that Québec enjoys, based on the Civil Code and on a notarial tradition allowing experts in real estate law to seek the optimal formula so that both parties emerge the winners. The management of all legal relations between parties could thus be entrusted to one single expert, approved by the majority of stakeholders.

We should add that, over the years, Québec society has developed a culture that promotes consensus and conflict resolution, a dynamic which also pervades the political milieu as well as labour relations.

These highly particular cultural and legal characteristics made for conditions conducive to the execution of the project and contributed to its success. Upon delivery of the project, all bills were paid and the QIM was never the object of any business claim, which is exceptional for a project of this size and complexity.

Public and private sectors: A new and productive relationship

Public and private cooperation is not limited to real estate. The financial contributions of both parties were essential to the launch and execution of the project.

The Quartier international de Montréal required a public investment of $ 74 million1, and the $16 million in private investment allowed us to pursue this notion of quality in concept, design, materials, and execution. This largely contributed to QIM's reputation and visibility and, as a result, to the important private investments generated in a revitalized sector.

In sum, with public and private investments totalling $90 million, plus an investment by CDPCapital2 in the underground parking ($40 million) and in the CDP Capital ($200 million)3 office building, the Quartier international de Montréal has created spinoffs of $70 million in other infrastructure projects, $700 million in real estate development (of which $ 260 million was private investment), and generated a development potential of another $600-$800 million.

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Private sector participation in urban development undertakings highlights the collective or community responsibility of these types of projects, which, as a result, often achieve a higher level of value, quality and spinoffs that public sector participation alone could not produce, due to political rigidity and public sector operating methods.

The presence of a private partner also constitutes a lever to attract the endorsement and participation of local property owners and a host of external partners, that a purely public approach could produce with only limited results. In this way, the QIM team could mobilize property owners who weighed in with an $8 million contribution payable in the form of an improvement tax, which would have been difficult to obtain from the public sector alone.

The principle of such public-private partnerships in the execution of a public project is to maximize the strengths of each partner in a structured framework that ensures adequate controls over rules and regulations, budgets and schedules.

Uncompromising solidarity and unity of purpose

The governments of Canada, Québec, the City of Montréal and the Landlords Association represent only some of the numerous stakeholders in the QIM project. Other important stakeholders include the users of the district (businesses and their employees, meeting delegates and tourists) and the major suppliers of public services. It was a considerable challenge to bring together all the property owners—often in competition with one another for business--under one umbrella organization. But a large project like QIM requires abiding solidarity and unity of purpose from all stakeholders.

If the goal of this solidarity among various stakeholders is to arrive at a compromise that would appease the interests of each partner, the end product would probably have lost much of its originality, quality and audacity and as a result, its added value. Only a clear and strong vision, as was developed by the project's instigators, would allow us to go beyond compromise, to obtain from the parties an endorsement for common values and a common, ambitious objective prompting them to consider the common benefit in the short and long-terms, beyond their own short-term interests.

This vision must be conveyed and embodied by a leader. Often, in projects of this scope, it is the city mayor or head of state that assumes this role. In our case, it was the President of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, one of North America's largest institutional investors, who provided the desired credibility and financial leverage. The Caisse was already present in the sector, where it wanted to establish its Montréal head office.

However, even with a clear vision and a strong leader, the cohesion and commitment of the parties could fluctuate over time, as unexpected difficulties and obstacles cropped up day after day. To deal effectively with these fluctuations, two assets were particularly helpful:

•A “hard core”, a corps of individuals who, among all stakeholders, are the “true believers” in the project, adhere to its values, are ready to defend them and to take on the project's inherent risks. These “champions” would be pressed into service to raise the morale of the troups, tighten the ranks and maintain motivation.

•A "forum of peers", made up of respected specialists (architects, urban planners/designers and architecture historians in our case), with whom management and the project team could find support and counsel when unexpected situations would arise, and whose prestige would counterbalance and more effectively deal with bureaucratic hold ups and political hesitations stalling the project.

Uncompromising unity of purpose and vision was a proven success factor for the QIM project, which met 100% of its budget and timetable deliverables and provisions, actually exceeding initial plans, particularly where it concerned infrastructures (25% increase in the scope of the project).

Creativity at all levels

Creativity is not an attribute reserved for artists alone; it is also a quality that distinguishes the best planners, designers, architects, project managers and other professionals in urban planning and development. Urban design and development places the first cultural stamp on a city, and as such, is the first (and most important) impression that visitors receive; an indication of the level of sophistication of their host society.

If the desire is to create a city whose identity and quality of life make it capable of attracting visitors and investors and retaining a strategic workforce, scientists, researchers and creative talent, than it is essential to draw upon local talent and creativity in the concept, design and execution of urban planning and development projects.

This emphasis on creativity is not as easy to achieve in a purely municipal approach (which, by its very nature tends to control flexibility and creativity through organizational, regulatory, budgetary, legal and political restrictions). There is thus a need for a management style open to interests other than those of the public sector alone.

In our case, the architectural and urban design firm responsible for the project concept, the project team, the experts in real estate law, in industrial design and in management were all recruited locally. Moreover, the QIM has become an international showcase for local design (urban design, landscape design, industrial and architectural design), technologies and materials.

Creativity is also the tool that was most effective in addressing the issue of unity of purpose or solidarity among parties. In so doing, we were able to elicit the creativity of the parties and develop an enhanced dynamic, rather than a degenerative one, where ideas and creativity would be sacrificed in the search for consensus based on the lowest common denominator.

At the QIM, we have always considered management as an exercise in creativity. So, to obtain the best price/quality ratio from our suppliers--which did not guarantee the awarding of contracts to the lowest bidders-- we innovated by finding new ways to proceed with tenders, by obtaining all required legal guarantees that these formulae were compliant with the law.

In some cases, creativity meant the ability to bend established rules. For example, if after issuing an RFP, the government was not satisfied with the proposal of the lowest bidder, it would terminate the RFP process, and start again from square one, after having reduced the scope of the project. A less rigid and more creative approach can consist of contacting the lowest bidder and discussing with the firm, on the basis of the firm's unit costs, alternative modes of implementation, substitution of materials and a reduction in project scope, to avoid delays and costs associated with renewing the RFP procedure …

Creativity can be a saving grace in risk management, especially when dealing with the two categories of risk:

•the “knowable unknowns”, such as the state of the underground infrastructures. In such cases, there are testing procedures and digs which help to verify the real condition of sewers, aqueducts and other connections;

•the “unknowable unknowns”, such as terrorist attacks, an epidemic or climate catastrophe that would affect air transportation, security standards, trans-border trade or even international activities in general.

Reacting appropriately to the unknowable—and thus unprecedented-- events requires creativity. Stakeholders generally have a low tolerance for risk. And it is often the job of the project team and project leader to demonstrate this capacity of reacting to risk at their respective levels.

This capacity can be found among the range of aptitudes qualifying “emotional intelligence” that one must develop to obtain the best from a team: a global vision of the issues and what's at stake, spirit of cooperation, self-discipline, a sense of anticipation, a capacity for resilience, creativity, commitment, a sense of ethics…

Creativity, in all its facets (concept development, execution, project management, solidarity of stakeholders), was considered a key factor in the success of QIM as it would be for other urban projects similarly characterized by their technical complexity and diversity of stakeholders.

The most cherished honour

Recognized as the new standard in urban planning and development and praised by Montrealers as well as tourists, media and film crews, the Quartier international de Montréal has, to date, received nineteen awards in thirteen different categories ranging from architecture, engineering and industrial design to tourism and integration of public art. Without a doubt, the QIM is Canada's most decorated project:

Awards

Metropolis 2005–Special Mention
Metropolis, Berlin

Prix Ulysse 2005 – Tourist Attraction –50, 000
visitors and up

Tourisme Montréal

Orange Award
Save Montréal

Gold Award 2004 – Urban Design
National Post Design Exchange Awards

Gold Award 2004 – Landscape Architecture
National Post Design Exchange Awards

Prix aménagement 2004
Les Arts et la Ville et Télé-Québec

Prix du public 2004
Nouveautés touristiques Bienvenue
Québec

Prix spécial du jury 2004
Nouveautés touristiques Bienvenue
Québec

Prix Thomas-Baillargé 2004
Ordre des architectes du Québec/Québec
Order of Architects

2004 IDM Enterprise Award
Institute of design Montréal

IDM's Canada prize (Urban Planning) 2004
Institute of design Montréal

Métropole Award of the IDM (Landscape
Architecture) 2004

Institute of design Montréal

Prix infrastructures urbaines 2004
Association du génie-conseil
québécois/Quebec Association of
Consulting Engineers

Awards of Excellence 2004
Urban Development Institute of Quebec

Orange Prize (2004)
Transport 2000 Canada

Industrial design prize (2003)
International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva

Gold Medal (2003)
International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva

IDM's Canada Prize (Industrial Design –
Specialized Products) 2003

Institute of design Montréal

Plaque témoignage (2003)
Destination centre-ville

But in our view, the most cherished honour was the news that the Quartier international de Montréal was chosen as a finalist in the PMI Project of the Year 2005 Award —a first for a Canadian project—, in the sense that this award encompasses the totality of the project, including concept development, planning, management, controls and particularly our emphasis on promoting and achieving unity of purpose, creativity and search for quality at all levels made possible by our team, our collaborators and our numerous partners.

 

1 All amounts in Canadian dollars

2 Sudsidiary of the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec

3 New Montréal head office of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2005 R.Daoust, C. Demers, M Maillet, B. La Mothe
Originally published as part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Toronto, Canada

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