Start date for retail project

By Laurel Stowell,

Construction of seven small shops and a large two-storeyed building for Farmers is set to begin in Wanganui's Victoria Ave in March.

The development will fill in a weedy empty space that has galled some residents for years.

The complex is called Victoria Retail Centre on plans approved by Wanganui District Council.

The owner of the site, English developer CJ Efstratiou, was visiting Wanganui until yesterday. He has been in talks with DML Builders.

DML owner David Corney said work would start on refurbishing the former ASB Bank building first. He expected to hire more staff later in the building process.

When contacted about the next phase of the project, Mr Efstratiou said he hadn't liked past stories about him and his development. He would only say "everything is now under way".

Wanganui District Council principal planner Jonathan Barrett said he had met with the developer many times during his year in the job.

Amended plans approved by the council in July show a 5530sq m, two-storey building for Farmers, with its back against St Hill St.

The centre of the site is filled by a 71-space carpark. Victoria Ave is fronted by seven small, new shops, with a gap between them for a covered walkway into the interior.

The vehicle entrance to the carpark would be from Maria Place, with a further three small shops built along the footpath there at a later date.

The carpark will be controlled, with charges for parking. Reinstating 71 of the parking spaces on the site has been a council condition for the development going ahead.

The new shops on the Victoria Ave and Maria Place street fronts will all appear to be two-storey, and have canopies over the footpath.

The Farmers building will have only one entrance, facing the carpark and pedestrian walkway from Victoria Ave.

Mr Barrett said the council had asked for and got some changes to the plan. One was adding three display windows and some variations in sheathing to the St Hill St frontage, to ensure the building had some visual features from that street rather than just a blank wall.

A previous condition from the council was that the Victoria Ave buildings be up by February 2013, and the project finished by March 2015. That now seems unlikely.

"I think we will take a view on progress at the time when the deadline approaches," Mr Barrett said.

"The key is that this development happens and we get the injection of investment, which is going to be good for Wanganui."

Another council condition for the project is getting more detail from the designers - Auckland's Ignite Architects. And the council wants the site appropriately recorded and mapped by an archaeologist. The development cannot proceed without an archaeologist to supervise earthworks, in case more pre-1900 remains turn up.

Mr Efstratiou's last archaeology contractor will not work for him any more, because the developer failed to pay or communicate with him. Payment was finally made after a lengthy court battle.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust is looking for a replacement archaeologist, its Central Region manager Ann Neill said.

"It's not finalised, but it's very close."

Artefacts already found onsite are being stored, and Mrs Neill said it was likely they would be analysed by a small team, under the direction of a competent person.

"We are just proposing a way forward with CJ, around how those artefacts are analysed."

She was aware that Wanganui people would like to see some action.

"We're trying to progress this in a timely way so that the site can have a positive outcome rather than leaving it in its current state. We recognise that it's not ideal that it has taken so long and we're hopeful that it will be resolved very soon."

Mr Efstratiou is now in the clear financially with Wanganui District Council after paying rates arrears of $161,693. He also paid the remaining $192,603 on a former council carpark bought in 2005 and needed to complete the land package for his development.

He owns $22.5 million worth of central city Wanganui property.


Key points

  • Two-storey, 5530sq m Farmers store

  • 7 smaller retailers initially; three other shops will be built later

  • 71 carparks

  • Construction to start in March

  • Work due to be completed in March 2015

- Wanganui Chronicle

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