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Bringing class to Britomart

Scenes from the Britomart Precinct at the Ernst Young building opening celebrations. Photo / Supplied
Scenes from the Britomart Precinct at the Ernst Young building opening celebrations. Photo / Supplied

But, warns Cooper and Company CEO Matthew Cockram, new plans for Auckland must be grounded in realism.

Matthew Cockram wants to inject a note of realism into the debate over plans to transform Auckland city.

Aucklanders are excited by the raft of projects that the city's planners have devised. But says Cockram, the plans have got to be grounded in economic realism.

As chief executive of Cooper and Company - which drove the classy commercial, retail and hospitality developments in the Britomart precinct pictured here on this page today - he has plenty of street-cred.

Cockram (like many others in business) confesses to initial concerns that Len Brown's election as Auckland mayor could dissipate the focus and energy on the central city to its four corners.

"But Len's recognised you need to have a strong commercial heart and this area is the place for that. That's a great thing."

That said Cockram is rather unimpressed with some aspects of the various masterplans.

"To be really blunt about it they are very long on aspiration and very full of so-called good urban design and strong principles; some of what have been proved and others that haven't necessarily."

He praises Brown for establishing priorities. But maintains what's missing ("and I think Britomart is a little bit of a case study here") is the business perspective.

"You can only spread your money so far. Even within the central area we are spreading our relatively small amount of dollars quite thinly and I would like to see a greater focus on leveraging off what we have in the first place before we start opening up Brave New Worlds.

"It's question of judgment and these things take some time."

In Cooper and Company's case, it's a view that what was possible at Britomart was largely dictated by the need to retain and refurbish a bunch of prime heritage buildings. Anything new was simply folded into the gaps.

"We have unashamedly been driven by the markets because we have to go to banks to show capital is being put to work in a good way," says Cockram.

"We took advantage of the market as it was in the mid-2000s where we had large tenants out there like Westpac and we were able to cater to their needs when they were in a very expansive mode."

But with corporates now quite price-conscious, the market is now very different.

"You could lose a lot of money getting out ahead of the corporates. Because one thing that hasn't gone down is the cost of developing these things. It's a pretty simple equation really".

Cockram describes the proposal to put an office and hotel on top of the Downtown carpark as Disneyland stuff.

"There is an assumption if you put plazas and trees everywhere, it will flow."

Cooper and Company is two-thirds through the Britomart project. There are still nine buildings to refurbish.

The company still retains an ambition to build a hotel on the old Seafarers' building. But the Auckland Council has contested elements of the plan.

If the company does ultimately build a hotel it is likely to run it itself as a boutique establishment.

It has also added more retail accommodation through the "black boxes" in the middle of the precinct which could be there for five years or more.

Peter Cooper was the driving force behind the development of Britomart - a 5.8ha complex of heritage buildings, public spaces and regenerating sites fronting a kilometre of prime Auckland waterfront.

The public-private partnership between Cooper and Company and the Auckland Council has already transformed a formerly dowdy area.

"'Getting the place habitated, the lights on, clearing out all the bums and sealing the place was a couple of years' work," recalls Cockram. "It was just big gravel puddles - pigeons and rats," adds marketing director Sarah Hull.

This classy destination will ultimately house a 24/7 precinct complete with bars, apartments, offices, shops and galleries, cafes, restaurants, hotels and cinemas.

Westpac and accounting firm Ernst and Young were foundation tenants.

- NZ Herald

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