The ground was broken in Auckland this morning on the site of a new tower to be built behind the facades of a century-old heritage-listed block.
The back and front facades of the historic Macdonald Halligan Motors building remain, with all interiors stripped out after work by a developer to demolish most of that building for a 41-level $250 million apartment/hotel tower.
Dean Rzechta, managing director of Melbourne-headquartered 94 Feet, arrived from Australia on Monday. He said demolition work was finished at 51 Albert St and construction of the new tower was about to begin so today's sod-turning was significant.
The site is near the Shakespeare Hotel, across from the Albert/Wyndham St intersection, backing onto St Patrick's Square.
Icon Co, also dominant in Australia but active here, won the building contract and gutted the building ready for the site works on the tower.
Icon also built the new 57-level The Pacifica apartments between Commerce St, Customs St East and Gore St two blocks from the waterfront.
The old block at 51 Albert St was previously known as the Dexter & Crozier building. Under the unitary plan, it is scheduled as a Category B place but interiors are excluded from that so it is just the exterior that has any protection and 94 Feet kept that.
Matt George, 94 Feet's sales and marketing director, came here from Melbourne yesterday and leaves tomorrow.
He said today the company bought the site in 2017: "Pre-sales of the apartments were done in 2018, we demolished most of the building a year later but Covid came along in 2020 and that delayed the project. It took us longer to negotiate with Icon and we're an Australian-based company so it was obviously more difficult. We're looking to complete this towards the end of 2023."
Sydney's Scott Carver Architects was appointed to design the new tower.
George said although 94 Feet had been working on the project since 2017, the sod-turning only happened today and now construction had begun.
"The facades are in better condition than we thought they would be. The previous owners had done a design for a building to demolish the facades. We chose to do our utmost to maintain as much heritage as possible. The foundations of those facades were not damaged or cracked. They're going to be easy to reinforce and strengthen," George said.
The developer said today the architects had "embraced the history of 51 Albert St, honouring the original 1912 building and features, including chevron timber floors and full-height windows.
"The overall design inspiration seeks to celebrate the building's history and create a new, beautiful Auckland city landmark," they said.
A heritage impact statement said the proposal had some positive effects for the retained heritage facades.
"Over the years, some unsympathetic changes have been made to the building and it has suffered from lack of maintenance. The facades will be structurally upgraded and strengthened and work will be undertaken to remedy any defects. This will ensure that the facades are retained for the future. It is also likely the facades will be well maintained as part of the larger development," the assessment said.
The new tower is to be a 225-room 30-level hotel on its lower reaches but 30 apartments across 13 floors from levels 29 to 41.
George said the hotel would be an Indigo by IHG.
Asked about developing a new hotel during this pandemic time, George said: "Obviously, Australians can still come to New Zealand. Our company committed to the hotel before the pandemic but we don't expect the world to be closed forever. We're confident the hotel will be a success because Auckland is an international city. It's definitely a destination for the long term."
Sotheby's International Realty is pre-selling the apartments and deposits have been taken on 23 of those, according to its managing director Mark Harris.
George said two-bedroom apartments were for sale for $2.7m to $3m. One three-bedroom apartment is for sale for $3.4m and a sub-penthouse at $11m and the penthouse at $13.5m.
Both the penthouse and sub-penthouse are 335sq m and entire floors, George said.
It's not the first block proposed for the site: in February 2009, land use consent was granted to a previous site owner to build the 46-storey apartment block which was then named Saffron.
The Herald then reported how St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral had objected to those plans.
The tower would have huge adverse effects on the area and feared domination, visual impact, shading and the sheer scale of the building at 51-53 Albert St between Wyndham St and Swanson St.
Since then, the Unitary Plan was enacted, allowing for much more intensification throughout Auckland, particularly in the CBD.
The Macdonald Halligan Motors building was designed by the Hamilton architect F Earnest Smith in 1912 but it was not built in 1918.
The three-level block was a private garage with frontages to Albert St and what once was Chapel Lane, now St Patrick's Square. It has two street frontages with a plain open warehouse space between.
Its Albert St frontage is of a classical style in the manner of commercial buildings of that period. It has arched windows and ornamentation on the upper level of its Albert St frontage.