Old Ottawa South residents are wondering what will become of a burned-out storefront located in the heart of the neighbourhood’s Bank Street shopping district more than three years after the fire.
The property at 1123 Bank St. remains boarded up and what once featured a lower level video rental store and a second floor spa has become what many say is an eye-sore.
West Coast Video and Elee Spa went up in flames in the middle of the night on Feb. 5, 2009. The fire was later confirmed as arson and since that evening the building has been closed.
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said at first residents believed the reason the property remained derelict was because of a battle between the property owner and insurance company. But now, he said it has become apparent the owner is simply sitting on the property, waiting for a good time to sell.
“The building looks awful and sends all the wrong signals about our neighbourhood,” Chernushenko said.
According to Chernushenko, the property manager and owner have been unresponsive; stating his staff member working on the file has only had contact twice in the past year. Multiple attempts by Ottawa East EMC to contact the property manager, Gorfay Reality, were not returned.
“They are not engaging with the community,” Chernushenko said.
They do however comply with the city’s property standards, such as when complaints about graffiti are made, but that is the extent of the connection between the owners and the surrounding community, the councillor said.
“I am convinced Ottawa needs to build stronger tools in our tool box to deal with spots like these,” Chernushenko said.
Whether that means expropriation or a call for demolition to dangerous or derelict buildings, he said the city would need to work on the details, but something needs to change.
“One or two sites should not be allowed to destroy a neighbourhood,” he said.
Since stepping into the Capital Ward office in Decemeber 2010, the councillor said he gets calls and receives questions about the property on a regular basis.
At the Feb. 21 Ottawa South Community Association meeting, residents asked the councillor for answers, which he admitted he could still not answer.
Brendan McCoy, chairman of the association’s planning and development committee, said the community would like to see something positive happen with that space, including the option of a new build.
“We are not happy with the state of the building, it is a blight in what is otherwise a vibrant area,” he said.
McCoy does credit the councillor for trying to work on a solution, but is frustrated with the fact that it is legal to keep this building standing as is.
“Unfortunately it seems it is legal for it to remain as is and that seems unfair to us,” he said.
Ultimately, Chernushenko would like to see a mixed-use development go up in the building’s place, with affordable housing, retail space and underground parking.
But for now, the councillor said unfortunately it will remain an eyesore.
“It sticks out like a sore thumb,” Chernushenko said. “It sends all the wrong signals. Put it back to good use.”