News

Past time to pop downtown’s old Red Balloon pimple?

Gord Heppell and downtown merchants want council action to speed renovations to the Station Street
Gord Heppell and downtown merchants want council action to speed renovations to the Station Street's former Red Balloon building. Legal and insurance wrangling have stalled repairs for five years.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Downtown merchants claim repairs to the old Red Balloon building are taking far too long, leaving the structure an eyesore that’s driving core business away.

Some blame Duncan council for foot dragging — and failing to fast-track legal and insurance glitches — on prodding renovations to the building at Craig and Station streets.

“We’ve still got this wart downtown,” Cowichan Merchants Building manager Gord Heppell said of the Balloon building’s protracted fixes that basically began in 2009.

“We’re trying to promote downtown. The bottom line is this (mess) has been going on for five years. We’re all tried of looking at this building, and need action but the city’s not talking about it.”

Not true, explained Mayor Phil Kent.

“We’ve been doing everything in our ability to move the process along,” he told the News Leader Pictorial.

“It’s a legal issue, and in the hands of insurance adjustors, and we’ve been in continual contact with them to (gauge) progress.”

Current talks — about responsibility for damage to the wooden building — involve city lawyers and the Municipal Insurance Association of B.C., and legal counsel and insurance agents representing building owner Susan Faulkner. Kent declined to discuss details of the complex quagmire.

“I appreciate the frustration of merchants,” he said. “We’re as frustrated as anyone by the lack of progress.”

So was Faulkner, who was equally as guarded of her opinions about the case.

“There’s no question it’s an eyesore. I have nothing but compassion for business people downtown,” said the former DBIA president, who sold her Red Balloon toy shop to Ian Fairwell in 2012.

“It’s a nightmare for me. It’s past the point of rational,” said Faulkner, hoping action by council could be spurred by this year’s fall election.

Fairwell said he hoped to move Red Balloon — currently in space around the corner on Craig — back into Faulkner’s repaired building.

“But I’ve been in a holding pattern for two years. It’s a huge drag.”

Ending that drag boils down to determining legal blame for three events that allegedly affected Faulkner’s building: a hit by a city snow plow during a 2009 blizzard; water damage to the structure’s wooden foundation; and alleged damage done during Craig Street revitalization work.

“I don’t think the city’s putting any value on how ugly and decrepit that (plywood-covered building) makes downtown look,” said Fairwell.

“It’s got to be a bad image for the city.”

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