Williams Buildings are likely to be sold

By Doug Laing

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A century-old reinforced concrete structure which survived the 1931 earthquake is understood to be close to being sold as part of the biggest changes in Napier's commercial heart since the disaster 81 years ago.

The two-storey Williams Buildings, built in 1911, include six ground-floor shops in a 200-metre strip of Hastings St which has seen five of its six other buildings sold in the last two years.

First to go were the historic Odeon Theatre and Callinicos Buildings and the multi-floor uncompleted 1980s-era AMP Building, demolished apart from heritage-protected art deco features to make way for a new Farmers store, now under construction and expected to open by early March next year. The Paxie's restaurant building was sold a year ago and has since been demolished, apart from its protected frontage, to be replaced by a shopping lane which, like the Farmers development, extends from Hastings St to Marine Parade.

The Napier Cosmopolitan Club was last month sold to Wallace Development. Managing director Jonathon Wallace said yesterday the 1970s-era former Leopard Inn is earmarked for "high-class" office space after the club vacates the premises in the last week of September to consummate its merge with the Taradale Club in suburban Wharerangi Rd.

Mr Wallace also confirmed the company has in its sights the Williams Buildings, on the other side of Albion Lane from the club. While tenants have been advised of a possible sale and redevelopment, Mr Wallace said the company hasn't yet bought the Williams Buildings, is "looking at several projects in the area," and it would be a month or more before anything could be confirmed. He said redevelopment is being driven by earthquake concerns.

The Williams Buildings was one of Napier's earliest reinforced concrete structures and is the only building remaining in the city with cast-iron verandah posts, others having collapsed throughout the city in 1931.

Meanwhile, Wallace Development has secured agreements from three prospective tenants for lease of two-thirds of the 2510sq m in the current Farmers Napier being vacated in the move to the new store next year.

Development manager Mike Walker said he was pleased with the agreements with up to a year to go before the sites will be available. The spaces with agreements all front onto the Emerson St shopping precinct and include the walk-through area of more than 1000sq m extending from Emerson St to a Dickens St carpark and occupied by Farmers.

The moves come amid growing concern about the emptying of shop space in the Napier CBD.

The latest to go are Marbecks, on the corner of Emerson and Market streets, and jewellers McLurg's departure from the Ocean Boulevard. McLurg's is continuing on its Hastings St site.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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