One of the most experienced retailers in Ballymena town centre has pleaded for a re-think on plans to transform the Broadway Bandstand.
Mr. Matthew McKillen, whose family have been associated with business in the town for more than a century also fears that the lengthy public realm works - expected to be drawn out over a period of around 80 weeks - will wreak havoc with the town’s ambience as a leading retail venue.
In a passionate statement to the Times this week, he said: “Having seen your headline about the ‘Big Dig for 81 weeks’ and the associated picture of the bandstand plan, three words sprang to mind. And they are stop, stop, stop!”
Mr. McKillen, the Chief Executive of famous Church street business, continued: “We don’t need our town messed up for one one year and 29 weeks! We need to encourage business, not chase it out completely and I can only describe the plans for the proposed bandstand as a frightful mess.
“Our present bandstand only requires a little additional assistance to look beautiful in the heart of our town but not that hideous yellow structure outside two of our best buildings - the Bank of Ireland and the Danske (formerly Northern) Bank.”
Mr. McKillen added: “Unfortunately I was not involved in any series of consultation meetings with Ballymena Borough Council and under the present circumstances, with any wisdom I would not have given a decision to move ahead, and certainly could not allow the destruction of our present Bandstand which has architectural merit, and some taste.”
He argued that Ballymena’s real efforts should be concentrated on replacing key ‘anchor’ stores.
“As one moves round Ballymena one is only too conscious of the decline of the outstanding stores that once lent vibrancy to our famous town. Other towns are now perhaps looking somewhat better than Ballymena and it is many years since I personally arranged to transport all the Ballymena Councillors to Cookstown to behold the beauty of their trees with their Christmas lights.
“The Councillors thought it was wonderful and thought that Ballymena could copy. They enjoyed their supper - but nothing happened.”
Mr. McKillen also contended that there was a danger of ‘too many cooks’ spoiling Ballymena’s retail ‘broth’.
“I thought that BIDS (Business Improvement District) were to be in charge of what Ballymena needed from this perspective. Why employ two bodies? Who is responsible for Ballymena and its wellbeing? Do we looks to BIDS or those behind the Public Realm Scheme?
“These questions need to asked and the views of the public who have been flabbergasted by the bandstand plan need to be taken seriously.”