Ravaged retail centre reborn
After eight months living in a quake-battered home, Erin Higgins needed a morale boost – and she got it yesterday when her beloved department store Ballantynes reopened its doors for the first time since February's deadly shake.
"I've been longing for this," Higgins said as she stood among the cosmetic counters in the refurbished ground floor of the iconic department store. "It's so great to have it back – I've really missed it."
For Higgins, the reopening of Ballantynes is such an important milestone in the city's recovery that she persuaded her sister, Ann Crook, to fly down from Martinborough and friend Linda Hayman to drive up from Mt Cook so they, too, could witness the rebirth of the store and the opening of Christchurch's new central city retail precinct.
Built out of shipping containers, the precinct is home to more than 20 shops and represents a new beginning for Christchurch's quake-ravaged CBD.
An excited mayor Bob Parker told the thousands who gathered yesterday for the official opening of the precinct that it was a "genesis moment".
"This marks the beginning of our city making the most extraordinary comeback," he said.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee admitted that he was initially sceptical the Restart project could be completed in time for Christchurch's Cup and Show Week, but the team behind it had shown huge fortitude and determination.
"Today gives us a little taste of what we can rebuild in Christchurch," Brownlee said.
Prime Minister John Key, who cut the ribbon to officially open the retail precinct, said it was an "incredibly funky" project.
Ilam resident Mary Norton said she couldn't believe how much the area had changed.
Getting the precinct ready for yesterday's opening has been a mammoth task, with contractors working through the night on Friday to get work finished. They were still putting finishing touches on some areas minutes before the opening ceremony.
When the cordons around Cashel Mall were finally pulled down yesterday shortly before midday, and the public allowed into the mall for the first time since February 22, thousands streamed through.
Among those leading the charge was Sue McCormack, from Fendalton, who came wearing an "I love Christchurch" badge. "I'm really for Christchurch moving forward and this is a really good starting point," she said.
"`It's going to bring people back in to the city centre and give people a better understanding of what's gone on here," said Kath Mawdsley, who was also in the crowd.
Next weekend Christchurch residents will get to see even more of their quake-damaged CBD as the first of the red-zone bus tours gets under way.
Meanwhile, St John Ambulance attended its first callout in the central city since the February 22 earthquake.
A woman in her 70s, attending yesterday's mall restart project opening, fell over outside Ballantynes on the corner of Cashel and Colombo Sts.
Ambulance spokesman Ian Henderson said she had suffered leg and chest injuries and was taken to the Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department and was in a moderate condition.
1854: Millinery and drapery shop established by David Clarkson, his wife Esther, and sister Elizabeth.
1872: John Ballantyne buys the business and in 1920 it becomes JBallantyne and Co.
1947: New Zealand's deadliest building fire erupts in the store. About 300 customers and staff are evacuated from the lower levels but 41 staff working on upper levels died.
2004: Ballantynes celebrates 150 years of retailing in Christchurch.
2010: Mary Devine is appointed managing director, the first woman – and first non-family member in more than a century – to lead the company.
2011: February's earthquake shuts down central Christchurch, including Ballantynes. The company redeploys staff to its Timaru shop, putting on bus tours for customers.
Sunday Star Times