Big news for Montreal: Maison Birks, the jewelry store founded in 1879, which has pride of place on the corner of Ste-Catherine and Phillips Square, will be transformed into a boutique hotel. Construction of the Hotel Birks is slated to start in spring 2017, with opening in spring of 2018.

The transformation of the building, opened in 1894 and designed by Edward Maxwell of Miramichi sandstone, promises to add lustre to Ste-Catherine St. east of the Eaton Centre, especially with the coming of Saks Fifth Avenue to The Bay, also in 2018. The city also plans to make over Montreal’s main shopping street, with work to start in 2018 on the eastern sector, from Bleury to Mansfield Sts.

“The timing was great,’’ Eva Hartling, vice-president of marketing and communications for Birks Group, said of the deal, which has been in negotiation for several months.

“Our stretch of Ste-Catherine St. is going to change completely,’’ she said.

Often described as the “Tiffany of Montreal,’’ Birks was sold in 1991 to Lorenzo Rossi di Montelera. It now operates 26 stores under the Birks banner in Canada, 17 Mayors stores in Florida and Georgia, and a handful of other stores.

The company sold the building in 2000 as it was restructuring; it was restored in 2001. The new project will see a 120-room hotel operated by the Le St-Martin Hotels group, a bistro and a newly renovated Birks store. The cost of the building was $38 million, Hartling said: Jean Salette, owner of the hotel group, will be investing millions more.  

The store will be about half its current size, 7,500 square feet down from the current 15,000 square feet, Hartling said.

She said the store will keep its Ste-Catherine St. frontage, but the mezzanine will likely become the hotel lobby, with the main entry on Phillips Square.

The beautiful architectural details will be retained, Hartling said, but the redesign will make the store more modern with more light. That’s in keeping with the rollout of new concept Birks stores across Canada, she said, citing stores in Yorkdale and Carrefour Laval.

“We can’t replicate that concept exactly,’’ she added.

The store will remain open during construction.

Birks had maintained a small workshop, its watch division and corporate offices on the upper floors of the building. Those will move to a downtown location. This year, Birks sold its jewelry factory to the Sporn Co. of Burlington, Vt., Hartling said. The factory remains in the building, but it will have to move, Hartling said, adding Birks Group will retain its partnership with Sporn.