Just like the old days

VICKI HOLDER reports on the re-birth of Upper Symonds St, which is gaining popularity as a hot city-fringe address.

After years of fluctuating fortunes, the ridge on Upper Symonds St is returning to its fashionable residential roots - 21st century style.

Up until about four years ago, the pocket between the city and Mt Eden was run-down and shabby. But its status is rising as a hot new city-fringe location, encouraged by Auckland City Council’s mixed-used zone, which promotes high-density residential and business development.

As city folk clamour to gain an affordable foothold in this handy location, it’s a case of history repeating itself.

Named after Captain William Cornwallis Symonds, a naval surveyor, Upper Symonds St was originally a private road. It was largely residential until the introduction of electric trams at the turn of the century. The improved transport system brought an influx of people and hastened a change to predominantly commercial use, serving people who lived in the nearby suburbs of Mt Eden and Epsom.

Many of the heritage buildings that can still be seen in the area were built in the commercial heyday, and they are mostly examples of Victorian/Edwardian commercial Italianate-style shop-front architecture.

With the advent of the motor vehicle, the area again went into decline with a drop-off in the number of people coming into the area as the city infrastructure changed. That stagnation was responsible for preserving much of the earlier streetscape features.

Now, it’s a community in the re-making with the rise in popularity of apartment living. An eclectic mix of modern and heritage buildings houses a diverse collection of cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops, along with smart contemporary terraced houses, apartments and business premises.

Quick to recognise the strengths of the area, developer McLeod Group last year completed 68 apartments and 105 car parks at Madison Apartments, a big, solid concrete building with retail outlets on the street front. McLeod’s directors were encouraged when the complex sold out in the first few weeks. They say the area’s key drivers are its central location, an eclectic mix of businesses and good orientation to the sun and views.

Situated on a ridge, Upper Symonds St has covenants protecting the views of the harbour and Waitakere Ranges from high-rise development. Just five minutes from anywhere, including Newmarket, downtown Auckland and the waterfront, it’s also close to the main hospital.

With more apartments planned, McLeod is building 291 dwellings on Upper Symonds St in the next 12 months.

Sales are also well underway for two further apartment buildings, Luna and Citta.

Set back behind Madison, Luna offers 118 apartments and 192 car parks. Citta, on the corner of Khyber Pass and Symonds St, has 105 apartments and 90 car parks, as well as commercial premises on the ground floor. Both blocks have sold well with about 45 apartments left between them. McLeod is now in discussion with the owners of the tower block next door, with plans to convert it into 200 apartments.

Local businesses are generally pleased with the influx of people these new apartments will bring. Co-owner of lunch bar and eaterie Suede, Marvin Royston predicts over the next two years the area will become the next Ponsonby Rd. His is one of the most recent businesses to open in the area. He moved here two months ago, attracted by the "amazing architecture" as much as the vibrancy of the location. He says Upper Symonds St is becoming "a centre point for Auckland, just like it was in the old days". Since he has been here he’s seen foot traffic increase, and Suede attracts a diverse clientele.

Ian Gemmel, of Gemmels Footwear, moved to Upper Symonds St from Karangahape Rd five years ago. He says the area was badly run-down when he first came, but he has seen it pick up. "The more people coming into the area is great. People create their own atmosphere. The problem is the parking, which is a major issue the developers are going to have to look at."

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