Mr. Stephen Leopold is known as real estate royalty in Montreal.
In 1973, he became an investigator on the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities (the Watergate Committee). In 1975, he became the Executive Assistant to Brian Mulroney during his leadership bid for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. In 1977, Mr. Leopold created Leopold Property Consultants and in 1993 he relocated to New York where he conceived and created over 2-acres of food courts in the World Trade Center. Recently, an entire chapter was dedicated to him in Donald Trump’s book, “The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received”. He has now returned to Montreal and created Léopold Montréal Immobilier Inc. as well as Audacité Montréal (http://www.audacitemontreal.com) , which is striving to make the new Champlain Bridge a world class bridge in terms of architecture and design.
1- Mr. Leopold, thank you again for taking the time to sit down with the Prince Arthur Herald today. In a recent interview on Montreal’s top news talk radio station, le 98.5FM, you stated that Montreal was once the most brilliant city in the World. You have lived in New York for 20 years, what is Montreal missing in order to be as good if not better than New York?
Let’s go back to the 1960s, Montreal was the most admired city in the entire World, we were more exciting than New York, London and Paris. New York will always be exciting, but look at Sydney and Vancouver who have moved onto the radar over the last few years. When we dreamed to dare and dared to dream, we built one of the best road artery systems in the entire world. You could go from one end of Montreal to the other on a super highway in less than 12minutes. We built an amazing subway system on rubber wheels and we planned the system so that we could put buildings on top of it which allowed these stations to become economic hubs starting in the downtown core; we had the audacity to dream and to be bold in seeking and being awarded the 1967 World Exposition which we named Expo67. Yes, we even created the word Expo here in Montreal as we dared to bring Montreal to the bull’s eye of the World’s attention. We had the audacity to seek and be awarded host a major league American baseball team and we were the first city in the World outside the USA to host one. We even had the audacity to compete against Los Angeles the home of Hollywood and we simultaneously competed against Moscow, the capital of the other superpower: the Soviet Union. Each of them eventually won the right to host the greatest show on earth but not until Montreal had taken her turn. We were the go to go and greatest city on Earth. Today we understand that we are not there anymore but the basics are there, and we have a second chance to become the most admired and most attractive city in the world.
2- Many citizens have lost confidence in Montreal with all the corruption scandals, the horrendous traffic issues and the feeling that Montreal is in a perpetual cycle of decline. How do you think it will be possible to reverse that trend or feeling amongst the general public?
Twenty five years ago in New York City you could not even walk in the streets in day time because there was so much crime and robbery. Today, New York City has completely changed. No matter how bad the times are, I think that it is quite possible to reverse course. Things need to be done symbolically simultaneous to adopting concrete policy. I greatly admire Mayor Giuliani and his police chief Bill Bratten because they attacked all types of issues: the big and the little things. They attacked the squeegee window cleaning people who would scare citizens into paying to have their car window washed when their car was stopped at a red light on the street; they attacked graffiti and gangs; they also attacked people who thought they had a right to do whatever they wanted on public transit by banning the consumption of food on the network. Who wants to walk through a spilt cup of coffee or a ketchup stained seat? It was all about developing good citizenship, which insisted on certain basic modes of decency amongst many people sharing crowded space.
In Montreal, like New York we need to think big and also think about the little things... like potholes. The small things might be different in Montreal than in New York but they affect our quality of life in many parallel ways. So many people have blown tires as a result of these potholes; it really ruins their quality of life. How about the icy sidewalks during winter time? What is the good of public transit when people cannot get out of their duplex because their sidewalks are dangerous? I have slipped twice on main downtown sidewalks. If our downtown sidewalks are treacherous then how about those in The Plateau or R.D.P. or N.D.G. We need to get the little things fixed then we can attack the big things, but they are not mutually exclusive. We’re all fed up with our city’s performance. That is why this is such a great time to rebuild from the bottom up both symbolically and in real terms
3- You have worked over the last few months to create Audacité Montréal. What is Audacité all about? What are its goals? And who is part of the team?
It started when I came back from New York and I turned on the television at night; the exact same backdrops on the news 20 years ago were still there! The same buildings were there, nothing had changed! Most cities in the World had changed their skyline. Montreal needed something new, Place Ville-Marie (PVM) is over 50 years ago now. PVM is not old enough to be the Parthenon and not young enough to be the most exciting building in Canada 2012. I saw that we were sitting on the laurels of the past. I first started saying to myself: how can we change the city? Building an 80 story building will not change us or make us distinctive from the rest of the World. 80 story buildings and twice and even close to 3 times that height are being built around the world. I was driving on the Champlain Bridge and I said to myself that this is a spectacular entrance to the city. This is our Arche de Triomphe! Our Brandenburg Gate. This could be the new symbol of the new Montreal.
We have the cleanest, greenest and most renewable energy in the World; there is no territory in the entire World that has the same high percentage of clean energy as we do. Over 98% of our electricity is renewable! In order to sell this energy, you need a structure that will sell you and catch the attention of the World. Ferraris are great cars but they spend millions on marketing, showrooms and salespeople. Well Montreal’s special extraordinary Ferrari of world energy also needs to be showcased. We are already a city with a great architectural past, why can’t we build an amazing structure? Bridges are tremendous symbols for a city just think of the Golden Gate Bridge, the London Tower Bridge, the Pont d’Avignon.
We’ve talked about cost cutting since the Olympics and look what we’ve gotten. The cost cutting mentality did nothing to keep up our infrastructure. Instead we deferred spending until...well look at the Champlain Bridge...it’s about to fall down...but we saved lots of money on upkeep.
That’s why I got Montreal’s most celebrated and proven business and job creators to support us. They understand that you can’t make a profit unless you invest. We need to think world-class again; we can afford spending on this new bridge because it is an investment. Just think, if we had the equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge in Montreal, millions of more people would come to see our new symbol. That would bring money back into the coffers of the city to reduce taxes, propel us to build better infrastructure, etc. This is why I have created Audacité Montréal. We are Montrealers, eagles among people in the world and we have to get out of our chicken coop and stop nibbling seeds from the ground.
4- I found one of the goals on the Audacité Montréal website to be quite intriguing. You want the governments to seriously consider heating the roadway. How would integrating that technology into the bridge potentially save billions of dollars? And have other countries already integrated that feature into their own bridges?
I love the expression in French: le gros bon sens. It’s all about common sense,
People’s sidewalks and driveways are already being heated. They’re heating sidewalks in entire downtowns in certain Scandinavian cities. The technology is very simple and would cost us $2million to $5million in direct costs every single year. But the savings would be huge. You would not have to buy tons of salt, pay workers to put it on the roadway, buy trucks, road conditions would be safer and less accidents means less traffic jams, which in turn means less pollution. How about people injuries and the deaths that would be avoided? Some accidents due to ice cause our medical system tens of millions of dollars over the victim’s lifetime and that’s just one accident’s victim.
How many hundreds of tons if not thousands and thousands of tons of salt have we dumped into the water we drink from the extraordinary resource that Montreal owes itself to: the St Lawrence River. Tell me who amongst us with even a bird’s brain would propose that we just dump and polluted our river water for the next century. Our ancestors did this because they did not know better in the industrial revolution. But we do know better.
Think of it this way. Pretend that instead of building a bridge, a private company proposed building a factory on the banks of the St Lawrence and that each year for the next century; the factory would pump hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of untreated toxic pollution directly into our St Lawrence River. The president of any such company would be dismissed as a dinosaur and sent to their office in Siberia without fur lined boots. I mean, this is the kind of thinking going into the new bridge. Whether it is creating a world class architectural icon that brings in money to Montreal in multiple ways, or just using “du gros bon sens”, that’s what AudaCité Montréal is all about
On a side note, what is interesting is that the speed of the river under the bridge is so fast that we could install an electricity creating turbine right under the bridge and heat the entire bridge separately from the grid. Our message to the World needs to be that we can make cheap and affordable clean green renewable energy here in Quebec and that we do it more than any place in the world. Our bridge becomes a beacon, a showroom with a message, our Golden Gate Bridge with its awe inspiring span.
5- The Audacité Montréal team has been able to receive the support of some very powerful Montrealers, notably Paul Desmarais Jr., Charles Sirois, Gilbert Rozon and Stephen Jarislowsky, just to name a few. Why has Audacité Montréal integrated the business community into the development of the new Champlain Bridge?
I went to get the support from members of the Order of Canada and great business people because of the respect they have created for themselves through the success of their careers. They are visionaries and are ambassadors for Canada on the international stage. This is what Montreal needs: a vision. By pooling their efforts together, we will be able to build the best bridge possible. They know that you have to spend a dollar to have a return. Sometimes when you spend 1$ you make 100$.
6- You have been involved in dozens of major construction projects in Montreal and New York. You are a visionary when it comes to real estate. What is your vision of how the new Champlain Bridge should look?
I have hundreds of dreams about how the Champlain Bridge should look. Our bridge should be something architectural that attracts the World’s eyes; it has to be as spectacular as the Sydney Opera House. Then we have to make sure that it is also seen by night. But how the bridge looks by day or night is up to the world`s greatest architects and creative minds to present in an architectural competition open to the world. Remember, it was an American who was the architect of the Mount Royal Park, a Canadian who was the architect for the breathtaking Guggenheim in Bilbao, a Dane for the Sydney Opera House and a Frenchman who designed the Statue of Liberty. The Golden Gate was built 75 years ago and the Brooklyn Bridge over a century ago. We have learned so much about engineering and the stress that materials can bear through computer modeling since then. There is no doubt in my mind that we can create the Golden Gate of the 21st Century and I don’t hear any San Franciscan complaining about the cost of the Golden Gate. No they laud it and the tens of billions of dollars it has brought into the city in its 75 year history.
7- Your team is full of young and dynamic Montrealers. Why should young people care about the new Champlain Bridge?
Young people have to care because they have a chance to define the Montreal of their future. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I were a young person, now is the time to seize the moment. McGill is a great institution; imagine if it could show images of the most spectacular bridge in the World?
I am really amazed at how many young people are getting involved with us already.
8- How can young people and university students get involved with Audacité Montréal?
Great question, there is a section on the website (www.audacitemontreal.com) to contact us. Send us a message and tell us what your area of speciality is. Our web team is already at 7 people and they are building an even better website as well as a strong social media platform.
We need graphic artists, we need bloggers, we need people to tweet, we need researchers, writers, designers, engineers, urnbanists, fiscalists, environmentalists to name just a few. We need people in every facet of this project. Montrealers, Quebecers, former Quebecers and Canadians from all parts of Canada all see this project as being very good. Oh sure, there will be those against, just as with Expo or the Vancouver Olympics, but the prolonged standing ovations I have received and the polls show that the vision of Audacité Montreal will prevail.
9- You were very active in politics during the mid-1970s in the Watergate Inquiry in the United States and with Brian Mulroney in Canada, what are your thoughts about the current state of politics today in the province or even federally?
Plus ça change plus ça reste le même
It is extraordinary that the city of Montreal has an Anglophone mayor of Jewish descent. What is even more fascinating is that Montrealers support him. Have we put our divisions aside once and for all? On Tout le Monde en Parle, most songs they played recently were in English, sung by Céline Dion. I think that as Quebecers we are more at ease with ourselves and we are less divided. That is probably the most important change I have noticed within the political sphere.
LAST QUESTION: You attended McGill’s Law School for 2 years and had an astounding career. What would be the one recommendation you would give to university students today?
The smartest people did not necessarily succeed, it is the hardest workers. Find what your passion is and work as hard as possible at it and you will become the best in your field. It is that simple.