Retail tenants wanted for ground floor of old BNZ Tower after makeover in 2009

One of the country's top retail spaces has been begging for tenants for two years but the empty shops on Auckland's Queen St could be leased soon.

Shops at 125 Queen St, formerly the BNZ Tower which stands at the end of Shortland St by Swanson St, are still vacant after a makeover which started in 2009.

David Bernard of Bayleys said approaches to a number of big-format retailers were unsuccessful but he remained optimistic saying the property was prime space.

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"I've spoken to all three," he said when Kathmandu, The Warehouse and Farmers were mentioned as possible tenants for the 1200sq m ground-floor retail areas.

"But it's going well because we've got the Metro supermarket and it's a great site. We're working with a number of tenants for the ground floor. There's no shortage of tenants, it's just getting a deal together," he said.

A New World Metro supermarket will open in March in the former foodcourt basement of the tower, after a lease was signed with Foodstuffs.

Bernard said level one was being advertised to lease as office space and plans for a creche were ditched some time ago because of regulations which made the concept too difficult.

Leasing the front part of the ground floor space near Queen St was easy, he said, but finding a tenant for the entire ground floor was proving much harder.

In 2009, resource consent was granted for a multimillion-dollar makeover of the retail levels and pedestrian links around the facade were changed.

An internal walkway between the neo-classical Greek revival facade and shop fronts was demolished.

Mansor's Jewellers traded for some years from 125 Queen St but in 2009 moved to 163 Queen St. David Mansor said he had considered returning.

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Nathan Male, a Metro Commercial director, said the shops in 125 Queen St were a challenging area to lease.

"The biggest issue is the heritage facade which is protected and can't be opened up to create a traditional retail frontage.

"We also understand that the building's protected status also means that the owners are unable to add a veranda to provide weather protection for shoppers. Auckland receives a lot of rain so weather protection is an important practical feature in CBD retail locations and almost all buildings in the street have verandas for this reason.

"Added to these limitations, the size of the retail space behind the facade - 1200sq m - demands a serious street presence for the space to be of interest to specialty retailers. As this can't be provided, we envisage the space being most suited to some form of bulk retail use. However, there is a significant difference between what a bulk retailer and specialty retailer would pay for the location.

"Putting the owner's aspirations to one side, the best solution for Auckland as a city would be to activate this part of the street via proper retail frontages at the ground floor level and a veranda above.

"Otherwise this section of the street will be confined to being a dead zone in traditional retail terms," Male said.

"Revitalisation can only be achieved with Auckland Council's support as existing rules are hampering the best design outcome for the city and affecting the area's vibrancy - 125 Queen St is in the very heart of the CBD and yet for two years it has stood forlorn."

Much of the tower has been empty after BNZ shifted across the road to a building by Multiplex at 80 Queen St.

The tower's ownership has been linked to the Sultan of Brunei for some years and the property, once managed by Jones Lang LaSalle, is now managed by Bayleys.

The Companies' Office showed owner Milverton International Investments was incorporated in 1996, its principal place of business was law firm Bell Gully at Level 22 in Shortland St's Vero Centre and its owner, Alperton Overseas Investments, was in the British Virgin Islands.

125 QUEEN ST
* 25-level office tower built in the 1980s.

* Originally home to an 1880s building.

* Owned by Milverton International Investments.

* High-rise tower almost empty.

* Queen St shops have been vacant for two years.