London

A year later, Ridout Street arson investigation remains open

London police say they are continuing to investigate last September's fire at 435 Ridout St. N. as a case of arson. The building is owned by Farhi Holdings Corporation.

435 Ridout St. N. is owned by Farhi Holdings Corporation

Paralegal Farid Arbi said he'd hoped to return to his office after a suspicious fire at 435 Ridout St. N. but says he learned last month that he and four other law offices won't be able to resume their leases. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

More than a year after a fire shut down his business, Farid Arbi remains keen to get back to work. 

The only problem is, he'll now have to find another place to do it. 

For almost five years Arbi, who works as a paralegal, leased a small office in the ground-floor of 435 Ridout St. N. Four other tenants, all lawyers, also leased space in the heritage-designated brick building that dates from the 1830s. 

Kitty corner to the downtown courthouse along historic banker's row, Arbi said the building was the perfect location for his business. He specializes in face-recognition and finger-printing software used in background record checks. 

"I was doing well there," Arbi told CBC News. "I was busy." 

Fire crews doused hot spots following an early morning blaze at 435 Ridout St. N. on Sept. 24, 2018. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

That all changed on Sept. 24, 2018. Arbi awoke to messages on his phone indicating an entry alarm at his office. He then heard news reports about the fire. Officials at the time described the fire as suspicious.

Just before Christmas last year, Arbi was asked to come and remove personal items from the office. He'd hoped this was to clear the way for restoration work. 

Once inside, Arbi was relieved to see his office wasn't too badly damaged. He could see that his furniture and floor would need to be replaced, but believed the restoration wouldn't last more than a few months.

"I kept waiting and nothing happened," he said. 

As the weeks and months passed, Arbi said he made multiple calls to the landlord for updates. 

The building is owned by Farhi Holdings Corporation.

"They said it's not going to be done overnight and there are issues they have to deal with," Arbi said. "Insurance or repair issues. They told me 'We don't know when it's going to be done.'"

CBC News called Farhi Holdings Corporation for comment on this story Tuesday, but did not receive a response. 

Arbi said in October an employee of Farhi Holdings told him the company now plans to lease the entire space to a single tenant, and that Arbi would not be able to return to his former office. 

The building has been gutted in recent months, with everything removed to expose the brick walls and bare concrete floor. 

The inside of 435 Ridout St. N. now. New windows have been installed but the building has been emptied of its interior walls and flooring. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

CBC News has reached out to the other former tenants of the building.

Immigration lawyer Greg Willoughby responded, and said in the days after the fire it became clear to him that any restoration work was going to take much longer that he was willing to wait.

"It wasn't happening quickly so I think everyone just moved on and leased other business premises," he said. "It was obvious that he wasn't inviting us back again."

Police say they want anyone with information about the fire to come forward or call their tip line at 519-661-5670.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now