Fire prompts call for immediate Fidlers demolition

EMERGENCY RESPONSE: Firefighters respond to the fire at the Fidlers site on Saturday night. Picture: JASON WALLACE

A MOUNT Gambier business leader has called for the “immediate” demolition of the former Fidler and Webb building following a suspicious fire at the prominent inner city site.

Nearly 20 firefighters were called to the dilapidated building on Saturday night after a fire started on the mezzanine floor in the former supermarket precinct.

The fire comes as the site’s owner GLG Group confirmed yesterday the proposed $35m redevelopment was at a standstill due to a redesign of the blueprint.

According to the developers, the interior and exterior of the proposed design of the retail centre was being altered.

The developers yesterday declined to pinpoint a likely starting date for demolition of the building, which has laid idle for five years.

Mount Gambier Chamber of Commerce president Lynette Martin OAM yesterday stepped up her call for the sprawling building to be razed given the site’s “disgraceful” appearance and the ongoing attacks by vandals.

It is understood the site is regularly being targeted by squatters, vandals and trespassers.

“The building is a blight on the central business district’s landscape,” Ms Martin said.

While the fire was controlled, she warned the incident could have potentially spread to nearby businesses and posed a safety risk for the community.

“The building should be demolished immediately – it is disgusting and detracts from the CBD,” the chamber leader said.

Conceding major developments could take time, she urged GLG to at least erect commercial billboards – explaining the looming redevelopment – across the building’s prominent Commercial Street East frontage.

“This should be done as a matter of urgency. Tourists are coming into our city asking ‘what on earth is that building’,” Ms Martin said.

“These signs need to be substantial.”

Melbourne-based developer Campbell Blennerhassett – from GLG – said the company expected a report on the fire today.

Revealing the development was “still on hold”, he said plans were being reconfigured and the South Australian Development Assessment Commission had asked for further information.

“The building is clearly becoming a problem with regular break-ins continuing,” Mr Blennerhassett conceded.

“We have spoken to police a number of times – we are trying to manage it the best we can.”

While the company had a goal to demolish the building this year, he warned removing the building too early would result in dust problems.

Regarding the proposed development, he revealed the blueprint was being “varied” due to the tenants’ requirements.

Mr Blennerhassett vowed the development would move ahead given ongoing pressure within the company to get the project “up and running”.

The company unveiled the ambitious redevelopment plans in May last year, which at that time included supermarket giant ALDI and major retailer Target as its anchor stores, along with up to 31 specialty stores.

Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) Limestone Coast regional operations coordinator Adrian Puust said the fire appeared suspicious and police were investigating the incident.

He said the fire started in the mezzanine floor in the former Foodland loading dock section of the building.

Mr Puust said three MFS trucks, along with a CFS appliance, were called to the scene about 6.30pm on Saturday night.

“Inside the building there were obvious signs of vandalism with walls being kicked in,” Mr Puust said.

Mr Puust – who was at the scene – said firefighters battled to contain the fire for around 40 minutes given it was difficult to locate the starting point of the fire.

He said the fire was potentially dangerous given the nature of the building and the level of vandalism.

While the issue of asbestos was considered, this substance was not found at the site of the fire.

Damage has been estimated to be around $5000 given the nature of the building.