MONTREAL — The dream of a new Montreal central market has been squashed, but not everyone’s unhappy about it.
In an emotion-packed spring meeting, the majority of small and medium-sized growers who’ve sold their produce in the west-end Place des Producteurs for generations announced they wouldn’t agree to a proposal to move to the east end.
The owner of the Marche Centrale shopping center next door, which wants the market land to expand, had offered to build a new market on two million square feet of industrial land in east Montreal, a project worth $42 million.
“In the end, our members were afraid to move because it would cut the market in two,” said Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.
While major Montreal importer/wholesalers such as Courchesne Larose and J.B. Laverdure Inc. signed on to the project, Canadawide, which sits at the edge of the market parking lot and buys from the local growers, remains locked into a lease on its current building.
“We were never part of the move,” said Canadawide president George Pitsikoulis. “We have a lease that we have to respect.”
Plante said the QPGA told the owners from the start that the proposal wouldn’t work if Canadawide didn’t come, too.
The verdict, delivered in a letter two days after the grower’s meeting, gave Courchesne Larose “a heart attack,” said Guy Milette, senior vice president of international and business development.
“It was like a slap in the face,” said Milette. “We had already designed plans for our new buildings and spent more than $150,000 on legal fees.”
Determined to act, Courchesne contacted the owner of the proposed market land. Within a month, it had purchased more than a million square feet. Bulldozers started clearing the land in mid-October, and Courchesne hopes to move into its new 200- to 250,000-square-foot building by spring 2012.
“We love the place,” said Milette. “The location is perfect, at the intersection of two major highways. And it’s right next to a golf course.”
Tony Bono, partner at Chenail Fruits & Vegetables, which disagreed with the move from the start, said the growers were smart not to accept.
“It was just going to spread out the market even more,” Bono said. “The fact that we’re all going to stay in the same area is better for everyone in the long term.”
Milette believes rejecting the proposal was short-sighted.
“In three or four years, the market is going to be pushed out of its current location,” he said “and the growers will need to put some money on the table to do so.”
Plante said he will continue to work to bring more customers to the market. Plans include enclosing one of three outdoor sections so interested growers can sell their produce indoors 12 months a year.