Cirque Founder To Create Concert Venue Within Office Complex

Guy Laliberté, the creative mind that made Cirque du Soleil a global entertainment attraction, is setting his sights on a property in downtown Montreal as he aims to put his stamp on the seven-building Maison Alcan complex.

Laliberté co-founded Cirque du Soleil in 1984 and oversaw three decades of steady growth as his performers entertained 160 million spectators in 48 countries during his reign. He then sold the company to a China-based investment firm for a reported $1.5 billion in 2015. Shortly after, he set his focus on the downtown Montreal Maison Alcan property where his father once worked as a sales rep for Alcan, one of the world’s largest aluminum manufacturers.

Today, Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters remains in Montreal, and the company has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,200 artists from more than 80 countries and an office in Las Vegas.

Laliberté’s Lune Rouge real estate company purchased the downtown Montreal Maison Alcan buildings for $48 million in 2016 and has since invested almost $50 million into the properties that are spread over 2 acres of valuable downtown real estate.

Laliberté’s Lune Rouge has since unveiled a series of innovative undertakings, including the nonprofit Zu program that offers office space for small startups. Last year it launched a public-friendly atrium where passersby can drop into a sprawling space to poke on their laptops while admiring the art-filled lobby or enjoying lunch at the Améa Café.

Lune Rouge’s next project on the site aims to refurbish a long-abandoned adjacent church to transform it into the Citadel, a venue for concerts and other public events, just one of the seven buildings at the Maison Alcan complex.

Laliberté’s minority partner Sean O’Donnell, an accomplished real estate developer known for his Quintessence Hotel in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, is now the hands-on leader overseeing the Maison Alcan project as president of Lune Rouge.

His attention has been aimed at the church, where workers have removed and painstakingly boxed and labeled old stained glass windows and church pews while removing asbestos and lead from the structure. Lune Rouge is not restricted by heritage building rules in its redesign of the church interior but they nonetheless plan to return the ancient interior to its original status upon completion.

O’Donnell promises that the multifunctional event space will be one of the “nicest venues downtown” and will be useful for any number of events, from concerts to conferences to weddings. Laliberté’s star power could help in attracting interesting attractions. “Guy is friends with Bono. Who knows? Maybe he’ll come and perform here,” said O’Donnell.

The church cleanup has cost about $7 million thus far and the subsequent conversion will cost around $10 million to $12 million, according to O’Donnell. A completion date for the venue was not disclosed.

Culver’s Vision
Laliberté and O’Donnell share a vision of restoring the Maison Alcan complex to the vocation set out in the 1980s by Maison Alcan CEO David Culver, who added a seven-storey aluminum tower and established the site as the company’s headquarters, complete with gardens and restaurants and cafes.

“It was a gathering place. It was an important milestone in architecture and urban development,” said O’Donnell. Rio Tinto had a different notion once it acquired Maison Alcan in 2007 and the multinational company closed most of the property to the public as well as its two popular restaurants. “You couldn’t come into the gardens or the buildings. It was sad,” said O’Donnell.

Rio Tinto moved their Montreal operations into Deloitte Tower in 2015 and O’Donnell got to see Laliberte’s mind at work after acquiring the Maison Alcan property. “He’s very highly solicited and recognized as one of the most creative people in the world,” said O’Donnell. “He has a curious mind and he saw this as an opportunity to bring back the vision of David Culver and also make this an ecosystem of companies. He wanted to give it back to the entrepreneurs.”

The 270,000 square feet of office space inside Maison Alcan is 92% leased, according to O’Donnell, a solid total in a city where the office vacancy rate has spiked to almost 20%. Office dwellers include start-ups on the first five floors of the former Berkeley Hotel building, as part of Laliberté’s Zu initiative, a nonprofit group that offers office space to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Other offices are inhabited by some of Montreal’s more notable business names, including Paul Desmarais III, Mitch Garber, Leonard Schlemm and Laliberté himself.

The bright atrium section near the entrance of the property on Sherbrooke Street opened last year on land once occupied by an alleyway. It attracts a wide variety of passersby, including students from the nearby campuses of both McGill and Concordia universities, who have become accustomed to loitering with laptops on a multitiered seating section across from a glass-walled elevator.

The Lune Rouge team plans to add a restaurant next to the cafe now that authorities have approved their plan to extend a glass-covered area out into the garden. O’Donnell sees the restaurant as essential to Maison Alcan’s mission of fostering an after-hours vibrancy once the offices close for the day.

Artwork is found throughout the complex, including in the two-level parking below the building, where motorists can enjoy a series of paintings that cover the walls of the brightly lit parking space.

The Lune Rouge team has a long-term vision of replacing the 2050 Stanley, built in 1983, with another structure, likely taller. O’Donnell says they have not yet decided whether it will be for residential or other purposes. Meanwhile, they also have an idea of putting a learning institution on the site.

O’Donnell believes that cities need places like Maison Alcan, which he describes as “a kind of a playground, a place to convene, where people can get to meet people.” It’s a better experience than working at home, he argues. “When you’re sitting in your basement, you’re not meeting anybody.”

The Lune Rouge company has not put all of its eggs in the Maison Alcan basket. The company also has investments in other properties throughout North America, including a long-term project to develop 8 million square feet in the Little Haiti section of Miami.

{ SOURCE: Costar }