By ANNE GIBSON
The largest shopping mall in New Zealand will be built at Albany as billionaire Malaysian and Australian interests target Auckland's burgeoning northern outskirts.
Sydney-based Westfield yesterday unveiled plans for a $130 million, 70,000sq m mega-centre. Construction starts in about a year.
Westfield, a family dynasty headed by Holocaust survivor Frank Lowy, has followed Malaysia's Tiong family to Albany, drawn to the furthest outskirts of the North Shore by the area's wealthy residents, a quarter of whom own their houses outright.
The developers' faith comes despite a North Shore City Council survey showing that residents and visitors think Albany lacks a soul or heart, is dangerous for pedestrians, sorely lacks public transport, is boring, bland and daunting for its sheer scale and distance between buildings.
The Tiongs, who own the Neil International construction company, are quietly creating a mini-city in one of Auckland's fast-growing areas. Forbes magazine has described the Tiongs as Malaysia's richest family. They are estimated to be worth $4.9 billion through global media and forestry interests.
"It's an entire city in the making, designed from the ground up," Neil boasts on its website, saying its Albany project is a chance for Auckland to build a new city and get it right this time.
The Tiongs saw the suburb's potential long before most other developers, buying 127ha from the Housing Corporation for just $21 million in 1994.
Westfield now wants in on the growth, with plans to build a mall almost double the size of its St Lukes flagship centre.
The proposal includes between eight and 10 cinemas, 80 shops, a supermarket, discount stores, parking for 1450 cars and a bank of bars and restaurants.
After two years of planning, Westfield lodged its non-notified resource consent application with the council on Tuesday and is hoping for a speedy approval process so it can start building next summer when the ground is dry.
Since the mid-1990s, Westfield has watched Albany grow to the point where the company can now see the feasibility of developing New Zealand's largest shopping centre.
But this will be no big-box mall, thumbing its nose at the outdoors. Westfield NZ director John Widdup said the bars and restaurants would open out to the north and flow onto plaza and streetscape areas.
Initially, Westfield will build a 30,000sq m mall, roughly the same size as its Glenfield centre, but with a 20-year blueprint to add 20,000sq m every 10 years.
Neil has been the prime mover behind Albany's growth, selling Westfield the land for the mall, subdividing extensive tracts on the fringes and undertaking large-scale developments in its own right.
The construction company, founded by West Auckland builder Ron Neil in the 1950s and sold to the Tiongs in 1993, has expanded Albany far beyond its traditional strip-shopping town centre.
The suburb can now boast the new North Shore District Court, North Harbour Stadium, bulk and strip retail shopping at the Mega Centre and Northridge Plaza, offices and high-tech industries, all complementing Massey University's campus.
Projects under way include a new park'n'ride busway, a technology park and a $50 million private-health park.
Council figures show that the wider Albany area's population has grown 56 per cent since 1996 and is expected to balloon to 55,000 people by 2021, from its present 21,000.
Within two decades, 40,000 people will work in the Albany basin, driving from elsewhere in Auckland to offices and industries - and to shop, if Westfield succeeds.
By ANNE GIBSON