Ad campaign aims to lure workers back to Montreal’s downtown core


Chamber of Commerce focuses on city’s dining out, shopping and entertainment offerings to entice workers to come back to office towers.

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With the downtowns of cities like Toronto and Vancouver showing a quicker resurgence than Montreal’s, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal introduced a new advertising campaign Monday meant to coax workers back to their office towers.

At the same time, the association stressed Quebec must mandate government employees to return to their offices to spur the private sector to do the same.

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Dubbed “Down to live it up,” the campaign’s central video, narrated in taut spoken-word poetry style by Montrealer Antoine Leclerc, features images of office workers enjoying the benefits of downtown that include working together, dining out with colleagues, going to shows after work and shopping. Images of young people in casual business attire with wide smiles predominate, a main target of the Chamber of Commerce, said president and CEO Michel Leblanc. (He suggested a tongue-in-cheek motto: “Fewer ties. More sneakers.”)

Young people have expressed the strongest desire to return, in order to mingle with and learn from their colleagues, go to restaurants, and escape cramped or crowded living conditions not suitable to home work.

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“For the last year and a half, the message has been mostly about safety, which was necessary, but created an atmosphere of fear,” Leblanc said. “Our approach now is to focus on positive emotions that reflect a love of working downtown.”

The $1.5-million media blitz, part of the chamber’s $8.5-million “ I love working downtown ” campaign financed by Quebec, is crucial as the Christmas season approaches, Leblanc said.

“I’m concerned that if we don’t act now, all those shops that have tried to remain alive may be at their last breath,” Leblanc said. “It’s time for us to come back, for the fun of it, but also because it will have an impact.”

A recent study showed 41 per cent of stores and restaurants in office buildings or métro and train stations were permanently or temporarily closed.

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A poll of Montreal business owners taken in August indicated 47 per cent of employees have started going back to work at least part-time, and 63 per cent of employers are discussing a return plan with their employees. Many employees are requesting hybrid schedules allowing them to work at the office two or three days a week, and flex hours to avoid traffic jams.

Key to the return is accessible and affordable public transit, Leblanc said. If commuters resist taking public transit because they’re only going in a couple days a week and driving is cheaper than a transit pass, it could lead to more congested roads that will in turn deter people from returning.

Chantal Rouleau, Quebec minister responsible for the Montreal region, said the government will be announcing transit fare reductions starting Dec. 1 for employees coming into downtown.

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Chantal Rouleau, Quebec minister responsible for the Montreal region, said the government will soon be announcing transit fare reductions for employees coming into downtown.
Chantal Rouleau, Quebec minister responsible for the Montreal region, said the government will soon be announcing transit fare reductions for employees coming into downtown. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Business leaders want the government to require its employees to return to their offices at least part-time, because many private sector employers are waiting for that cue to do the same, Leblanc said. But Rouleau said the government is following the recommendations of Quebec’s public health department, which suggested last August employees postpone a return to the office due to the fourth wave of COVID-19 hitting the province.

Leblanc also stressed that no COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to workers in office towers, or on public transit, according to Montreal’s public health department. He said it could be 12 to 18 months before a reasonable rate of return has been achieved .

Cities like Vancouver and Toronto appear to be having a faster revival because they have more densely populated cores and better public transit options than Montreal, said Glenn Castanheira, general manager of the downtown business development corporation Montréal centre-ville.

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“You don’t need a car in downtown Vancouver — I think that’s where we need to accelerate investing,” he said. Montreal’s downtown core has all the elements necessary for revival, Castanheira said — high residential density, many tourists, cultural attractions and omnipresent dining — but it needs to eliminate unnecessary construction sites and orange traffic cones, while reinvesting in the downtown core.

“Our downtown is really what sets us apart from other large cities,” he said. “But if we don’t reinvest in it, I think we will be in serious trouble in the long run.”

rbruemmer@postmedia.com

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