A public auction will determine the fate of the Garley Building, scene of a 1996 fire that killed 40 people Almost seven years after the Garley Building fire left 40 people dead, the infamous property still stands vacant, covered with black smoke scars and green netting turned dark by air pollution. A rusty yellow scaffold stands in front of the Nathan Road building. To locals and tourists alike, the area under the scaffolding has become well-known as a haunt for the homeless. 'There seems to be two people there regularly,' said Fay Usherwood of New Zealand, who was visiting Hong Kong this week. 'That's a bit sad because we don't see that in our country.' The fate of the Garley Building had been in limbo while its majority owner, China Resources Enterprise, sought approval to sell the building at a public auction. After a lengthy battle to win the unanimous support of all of the building's owners, that auction will finally take place next Thursday. China Resources hopes to gain the rest of the shares by bidding for the site through a holding company that already owns 99 per cent of the building. If it wins, the company plans to build a Ginza-style shopping mall there. The company owns other commercial properties in Causeway Bay, the New Territories and Kowloon, including the Argyle Centre in Mongkok. 'We applied with the Lands Tribunal because we wanted to buy the rest of the shares,' said Wang Chun, deputy general manager of CRE Properties Hong Kong, a subsidiary of China Resources. 'But, of course, this is a public auction and any developer can bid.' The Garley Building is located in Tsim Sha Tsui West, in the middle of a bustling shopping district. At street level, it is next to a branch of Watson's and a bank. Chow Sang Sang Jewellery, which had its accounts offices in the Garley Building, is two doors down. The fire of November 1996 that blazed through the 16-storey building was sparked by a welding torch used during the installation of new lifts. The flames killed 40 people and injured 81. Yesterday afternoon, a homeless man with his possessions in about a dozen plastic bags was resting in front of the building. He hung three shirts on the board blocking the entrance to the building. 'It really affects the city's image,' said Edward Li King-wah, member of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council. 'The building does not make for a good landmark.' Pedestrians on Nathan Road have got used to the sight of the building, but many hope that redevelopment plans can clean up the neighbourhood. 'It's good if they redevelop it either as a residential or commercial building because there are many homeless people sleeping there,' one said. 'It wouldn't be good if tourists see that.' While the sight of the building does not bother many shopkeepers in the neighbourhood any more, they hope that a revamp will help boost foot traffic. 'Anything is better than letting it just sit there,' said Tsang Chun-nam, manager of a pharmacy around the corner from the Garley Building. The owner of an electrical goods shop who identified himself only as Mr Wong said the bad memories associated with the building had faded 'except when the television stations replay those images'. While he is apathetic about plans for the redevelopment, he is hopeful that they might bring more business to his store.