Wool store clipped for makeover

By Colin Taylor

Historic Textile Centre in Parnell is the latest refurbishment project for Phillimore Properties

The Textile Centre buildings were originally used as wool stores at the beginning of the last century.
The Textile Centre buildings were originally used as wool stores at the beginning of the last century.

Phillimore Properties, one of the few property companies prepared to buy historic or character buildings to refurbish for another century of usage, has purchased the Textile Centre at 1 Kenwyn St, Parnell.

Phillimore is well known for transforming the historic Imperial Buildings in downtown Auckland from a drab service lane and empty buildings into a cafe and restaurant zone with desirable character offices.

The company has early concept plans for the Textile Centre but says it will take things very slowly to accommodate its existing tenants.

The $15 million redevelopment of the Imperial Buildings won a NZ Property Council heritage excellence award and Fearon Hay, Phillimore's architects, picked up the New Zealand Institute of Architects' medal for the project, the institute's top prize.

The Textile Centre was sold by Bruce Whillans of Ray White Commercial who negotiated the deal directly between the vendor and Phillimore. Whillans says Phillimore's interest in character buildings is what drove the sale through.

The price is undisclosed but it was said to be less than the property's $40 million valuation a year ago.

One of Parnell's original building complexes, the Textile Centre on the corner of Kenwyn St and Watt St has already been refurbished and houses EziBuy, Xero and incubator company Ice House among others, with a combined annual income in excess of $3 million.

The first buildings in the Textile Centre complex were constructed between 1908 and 1922 and were originally used as wool stores owned by the New Zealand Shipping Company. Over the years they were also used by Federated Farmers and the Union Steam Ship Company.

"Ross and Ken Healy, and Terry Gould of Phillimore, have a long history of refurbishing classic buildings including the Blacketts Building on Queen St and, more recently, the award-winning refurbishment of the Imperial Buildings, housing Louis Vuitton and Gucci, running between Queen St and Fort Lane. The Textile Centre in Parnell can only benefit from their ownership."

Previously in the same ownership for more than 25 years, the property has always had high occupancy as a result of the classic space it offers. It was originally constructed as three separate buildings and now comprises the larger complex plus a small character brick building at 2 Watt St and a large parking building.

Managing director Ross Healy says Phillimore is excited about the new buy's potential and already has a rough idea of what it wants to achieve before concept plans are drawn up by the designers, Tim Hay and Jeff Fearon of Fearon Hay Architects.

Healy says work is likely to start on areas in the building that will cause minimal disruption to tenants.

"Generally we will be looking to enhance the functionality and character feel of the property, similar to the Imperial Buildings."

While the Textile Centre is a very different type of complex from the Imperial Buildings, Healy says Phillimore loves the style of its space, the high stud, character features and also likes the area. "We are excited about the intrinsic value apparent in this part of Parnell and the high tenant demand the Textile Centre has always generated.

"Our current tenants require the existing large floor plates so whatever we do will be a well managed and staged development but initially the work will be cosmetic.

"The first thing we want to provide is a more impressive entrance lobby. The present openings are somewhat confusing and we want to give the building a smarter and more defined main entry.

"The building has good bones and we want to open it up and create a bit more life around the ground floor for retail," Healy says. "Long term, it could be converted into character apartments but that option would be a long way down the track."

He says Phillimore will also be structurally upgrading the building. "We will start with the entrance and work our way back, utilising ideas from the Imperial Buildings."

Phillimore is hoping to create a lane within the site, incorporating at least one of the huge rear cart docks, thereby offering more interesting retail and hospitality spaces.

The history of the Textile Centre is as long as its list of tenants, with more than 100 companies having occupied the building in its 100-year history trading in products ranging from wool to IT services.

Northwood Properties bought the sites in the 1980s to manage the newly named Textile Centre, then occupied by tenants largely involved in the textile industry that were spread across 13,850sq m of the centre's four floors.

By 1986 it was fully occupied with textile tenants, including the Maurice Kain Group and Amtex on 10-year leases. "Unfortunately New Zealand's textile industry largely collapsed 15 years later as cheaper goods manufactured offshore flooded the market and the tenants didn't renew their leases," Whillans says.

Northwood refurbished the complex, attracting its first advertising agency, Chiat Day Mojo. The makeover included upgrading the air conditioning and lighting, installing fibre optic cable for data and voice services, and creating corridors and entrances into a broad range of people-friendly tenancies within the almost modular building. Also provided was on-site recycling, an on-site custodian and security patrols with tenant services like bicycle racks and a parking ratio of one vehicle to every 40sq m of space leased.

The complex was soon fully leased to tenants who appreciated the original features. Among these are its jarrah timber beams complemented by brick walls made from NZ clay fired in Australian brickworks, as well as polished floors and a saw-tooth roof.

The timber beams arrived as ballast on sailing ships. They were untied at St Georges Bay, brought ashore and used in construction many decades later. The ships went to Freemans Bay and were replanked. While the sailors were waiting for their ships' planks to be reglued they trudged up to Ponsonby for a beer and the pub earned the moniker The Gluepot. The Textile Centre's new tenants don't have to walk as far to quench their thirst -- the Paddington pub is just downstairs.

- NZ Herald

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