New beginnings

New beginnings

Total Property - Issue 1 2019

Lovingly restored historic buildings can offer unique opportunities as commercial property, not only for owners and developers, but for communities, particularly when repurposed for uses of the future.

Lloyd Macomber is a director of Salmond Reed Architects, specialists in restoring and adapting historic and character buildings.

He believes anyone can make a case to not save old and historic buildings. “Sometimes the financial case of saving a buildings doesn't stack up. It can be a lengthy and expensive process, particularly if a building needs seismic strengthening.”

Macomber says whatever the financial cost, owners should not take a short-term view.

One of his company’s most notable Auckland projects was the adaptive reuse of University House, on the corner of Princes Street and Bowen Avenue. Dating from the 1880s, it was a Jewish Synagogue until 1969 and eventually converted to offices with an award-winning restoration.

The project involved extensive structural and strengthening work and interior redevelopment.

As with similar projects, the quality of restoration – with facilities and workspaces fit for 21st-century office needs combined with an element of heritage prestige – has helped attract quality tenants. The University of Auckland took over the lease in 2003 and it was re-leased in 2018.

The conservation project won a New Zealand Institute of Architects national award citation in 1990 for successfully reconciling the tenant’s requirements with conservation of a landmark building.

Macomber says projects like this demand a sympathetic and carefully considered approach.

“With our adaptive reuse projects, old buildings are researched, surveyed and sometimes put through a ‘weight-loss programme’ to remove unsympathetic or intrusive additions.

“New design thinking is applied and often modern design outcomes inserted in amongst the old character, all resulting in a fresh and honest building ready for a new, modern life.”

One prominent Christchurch building saved from demolition is the former Government Buildings. This Italian Renaissance-style building was designed to centralise various government departments. It opened in 1913 and various government departments were in the building until the 1980s.

It was slated for demolition in 1991. Christchurch City Council stepped in and bought it from the government for $735,000 then on-sold it to the former Symphony Group in 1995, and it was strengthened and converted to a hotel.

It survived the 2010-2011 earthquakes, was refurbished and reopened as the Heritage Hotel Christchurch. In 2017, it was a winner in the World Luxury Hotel Awards.

When the country's oldest purpose-built police station was put on the market in 2016 a Wellington couple became proud owners of the heritage property in Buckle Street, which was converted to offices in the 1990s.

The Category A heritage-listed property was built in 1894 by prisoners from the nearby Mount Cook and Terrace jails. Thousands of red bricks for the 550m2 police barracks were handmade by inmates.

Finishing its life as barracks in 1956, it was a police clothing store until 1967 then handed over to the now National Museum and Art Gallery.

In 1978 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust restored it, and in the 1980s the Ministry of Works strengthened the building.

After that it was home to The Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery until the completion of Te Papa in the late 1990s. The wider site was transferred to the Wellington Tenths Trust. The area containing the police station was subdivided and it was sold in the 1990s and used as an office. It is now tenanted by several small firms.

The property’s potential for investors was highlighted by Bayleys Wellington salesperson James Higgie when it first came onto the open market in 2016: a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, combining heritage prestige with an attractive location and multiple possible uses and the potential to develop unprotected blocks.

The multimillion-dollar conversion of Dunedin's heritage Post Office building into a Distinction Hotel was welcomed by the city council.

Erected in 1937, the 10-storey building sat empty from the 1990s before being converted to a 4.5-star, 120-apartment hotel and office space for commercial tenants.

Integrating modern facilities was a significant aspect of the design. Demolition was limited and character preserved.

At the time of the 2013 conversion, owner Geoff Thompson said he loved the building and it was just a matter of finding a way to make it “stack up”.

Read more market insights from Total Property

Subscribe to receive the latest commercial news and insights from Bayleys Total Property