Makeover for Britomart buildings

By Colin Taylor

Heritage refurbishment will transform two historic buildings into high-end office and retail space

Artist's impression of Nathan building at 36-38 Customs St, (left) and Australis building (right) at 40-46 Customs St following their refurbishment.
Artist's impression of Nathan building at 36-38 Customs St, (left) and Australis building (right) at 40-46 Customs St following their refurbishment.

One of Auckland's biggest commercial heritage refurbishment projects will see the historic Australis and Nathan buildings in the city's central Britomart business district transformed into luxury character office and retail space.

Paul Dyson, office leasing director at Colliers International, says the two century-old buildings are recognised as Britomart's most beautiful character buildings.

"The interiors of the Historic Places Trust-registered structures will be seamlessly interconnected to provide four big 1000sq m floor plates spanning both buildings," Dyson says.

"The upgrade and renovation of these buildings framing Takutai Square and their relaunch as high-end office and retail accommodation, is a very significant refurbishment project.

"The heritage refurbishments completed so far at Britomart have mostly been single buildings of a smaller scale to the Australis-Nathan project and the owner of the two buildings has worked up to this major undertaking over several years."

He says the buildings' transformation into premium character offices and shops is designed to attract top-tier tenants keen to relocate to the thriving Britomart precinct. Both buildings comprise ground floor retail space of around 1000sq m with 4000sq m of office space on four levels above.

"This will be among the most luxurious heritage office and retail space in New Zealand when the renovation is completed," Dyson says.

"It will offer a location among a hand-picked collection of superior business and retail brands with the upper floors of the buildings providing views across Takutai Square to the Waitemata Harbour."

He expects to receive interest in the office space from larger firms seeking the benefits and profile of the Britomart location.

Dyson says the made-over Australis and Nathan buildings will be the first major release of property at Britomart since The Pavilions were opened in late 2012 housing fashion and beauty tenants including Bobbi Brown, Juliette Hogan, Karen Walker and Kathryn Wilson along with restaurants and cafes Ortolana, Milse and The Store.

The buildings' interiors will be carefully restored under the watch of architects in order to preserve and enhance their beautiful historic features, he says.

They will be stripped back to empty shells inside and the original rough-sawn timber ceiling beams, with their distinctive herringbone patterned bracing, will be retained as a highlight of the refurbished loft-styled space. These decorative ceilings, which will be preserved, are a feature of both buildings. In the Australis building the ceilings are supported by original solid timber columns while the Nathan building employs cast iron columns.

The original brickwork will also be stripped back to form character feature walls as part of the renovated space. High-spec amenities and services will be installed, including new sash windows, modern air conditioning, lifts and bathrooms.

The neoclassical Australis House, at 36-38 Customs St, was originally named after its owner, Andrew Entrican, an Irish immigrant who arrived in 1880 and who served as Auckland's deputy mayor for 21 years.

Andrew, with his brother James, established a grocery and produce business and built Entrican House in 1904 for £10,000.

The building served as a warehouse, offices and retail shop and was praised effusively in an article in The New Zealand Graphic for its "brilliantly lighted and beautifully decorated ground floor, office and show room, which for an air of spaciousness, convenience and general effect is not ... excelled or equalled in the colony".

The brothers imported and stocked a wide range of goods, including preserves, candles, coffee and pharmaceuticals. Vermin-proof storage was provided in the upper floors, and butter and cheese were packed for export in the basement.

The grocers evidently had talents in merchandising, with the New Zealand Graphic writer highlighting the "attractive display of comestibles which rise tier upon tier" and a life-sized statue of "a most attractive young lady ... made of brown paper, artfully coloured".

The building was renamed Australis House in the 1970s, with the interior refurbished to accommodate offices and a sixth floor added.

The Nathan Building at 40-46 Customs St, was named after one of the country's most prominent early merchant families. It was constructed in 1903 for Arthur Nathan, nephew of English merchant trader David Nathan, founder of the well-known New Zealand retail company L. D. Nathan & Co.

Nathan sold general merchandise, including clothing, guns and food from the Customs St building, which was originally named the Launceston Building after his birthplace. The building is distinctive for its decorative use of multi-coloured bricks and plaster.

Nathan also held influential civic positions in Auckland, including stints as chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board, president of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Northern Steamship Company.

His company enjoyed considerable success and continued to operate out of the Nathan Building for 67 years. Following the company's departure in 1970, the building was occupied by various businesses, including an Italian restaurant on the ground floor.

The $1 billion Britomart redevelopment, which began a decade ago with the conversion of the former Chief Post Office building into the Britomart Transport Centre, has transformed the long-derelict area into a master-planned retail, hospitality, hotel, leisure and office precinct.

"Ten years of development have seen Britomart's nearly six hectares of reclaimed land becoming a busy and vibrant place where modern buildings mix with history-filled character buildings and attractive public spaces," Dyson says.

"Eventually, all the area's heritage buildings will be carefully restored and leased to long-term commercial tenants."

Dyson says Britomart is now a city quarter that attracts people day and night. "It is set to become a 24/7 precinct with the upcoming addition of boutique hotels to the current retail, office, leisure and hospitality offering. The City Rail Link project will further benefit Britomart and cement its status as Auckland's transport hub, with bus and ferry services also on the doorstep.

"We see this latest announcement about the refurbishment of the Australis and Nathan buildings as a very special and rare opportunity for businesses to move to renovated character office space with large, contiguous floor plates in a thriving location. With Auckland CBD prime office vacancy having almost halved in the past two years to just 5.8 per cent, we expect demand to be high."

- NZ Herald

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