Hengyi Pacific, the company planning a 57-level tower in downtown Auckland, has already built two Melbourne super-towers and is well under way with a third.
And now it has big plans for its site here.
Although many Auckland apartment projects have been cancelled before construction began, Hengyi - one of Australasia's largest high-rise unit specialists - appears set on going ahead.
The $300 million Pacifica project would be New Zealand's tallest apartment tower. Construction is due to start next month, near Auckland's waterfront.
Dean Fossey, a Hengyi Pacific director who is based in Melbourne but comes to Auckland every fortnight or so, this month showed what the company has done across the Tasman, and revealed more detail of its Auckland plans.
"By March next year you'll be starting to see the structure rising," he said.
Features of Hengyi's two existing Melbourne towers give an indication of some of the elements planned for the Auckland boutique hotel/apartment tower, on a site between Commerce St and Gore St, a block from the waterfront in the Britomart area.
Hengyi's first Melbourne project was The William, an office block conversion of two adjacent buildings - a 23-storey tower on William St and a 21-storey building in Little Bourke St. That has an outdoor pool and a hotel.
That was followed by the Light House project on Elizabeth St in the Melbourne CBD. The newly opened 69-level, 607-apartment tower is distinctive for its colour and angular floor plates. It has almost a Rubik's Cube look, all angles, colours and jutting points, making it stand out strongly on the city skyline. Melbourne developers are not afraid of colour - a big difference to Auckland. Elenberg Fraser were the architects and Multiplex Constructions built it.
And Hengyi is now working on Swanston Central, designed by the same architect, a 72-level, 1039-apartment project nearby at 168 Victoria St in Melbourne's Carlton neighbourhood. In fact, level 69 of Light House provides a bird's eye view of Multiplex's progress on Swanston Central.
On the ground floor of his offices on Collins St in Melbourne's CBD, Fossey has models of The William and Swanston Central. Also based in that office is Hengyi chairwoman and founder Min Wang, originally from China, and director Lu Xing, also originally from China but in Melbourne for more than 20 years.
The women had returned this month from a trip to Tibet, where they visited temples and viewed Mt Everest, said Xing, sporting Tibetan wrist beads.
Aged in her late 40s, Wang is said to be a billionaire as a result of developing buildings in China. Her CV shows she has an MBA from Beijing University. Her partner, Liang Chen, is Hengyi president but while she lives in Australia, he remains in China.
Hengyi is affiliated with mainland Chinese developer Shandong Hengyi.
Other Hengyi Pacific directors are Jeff Wang, Fossey and Hengyi's boss on the ground in New Zealand, Liz Scott, who is the company's general manager (NZ). Simon Manley is Hengyi's development manager.
Fossey said carparking efficiencies were one of the features planned for the big Auckland tower.
"We don't dig a lot of holes," he said, pointing to just two basement levels at The William and two at Swanston Central.
"We're not big on basement digging."
Stacking systems maximised carparking: at the newly opened Light House, there are just 158 parking spaces over seven levels. "This is how we get away from digging a hole."
Two carparking lifts are planned for The Pacifica, with robotic-style car stackers. Residents will drive into a dock, leaving their vehicle on a turntable. The car will then be remotely moved into place.
Fossey said Hengyi had examined high-tech carparking systems in Germany and Singapore.
"We just use the [car] lift like a passenger lift. Car dependency in Melbourne has diminished."
In Auckland, ground works for the project will involve boring for piles and pouring concrete for the foundation. The skyscraper itself will be built of concrete - in contrast to the steel-framed Commercial Bay project, now rising nearby - with a double-glazed glass curtain wall.
Exterior balconies will be on the lower levels. "Light House has balconies up to about level 40 but it's not possible above that. It's a decision we make project-by-project," Fossey said.
The now-rising Swanston Central will have exterior balconies up to about level 24, he said.
"But Pacifica will be on a site more exposed to the water than the Melbourne projects are," Fossey said.
Hengyi's Melbourne projects are far from the city's tallest. For example, Multiplex is building Australia 108 in the city's Southbank area, a residential tower that will be 319m tall, not far short of Auckland's 328m Sky Tower. That Melbourne super-tower is due to open in 2020, and will have 1105 apartments on 100 levels, says Multiplex.
Fossey said Aucklanders had welcomed Hengyi's arrival and were "more welcoming than Sydney or Brisbane", where the developer has also looked for work. "Going into Auckland, people are interested in what we're doing, trying to understand it."
Real estate group CBRE had sole marketing rights for Pacifica, after five agencies pitched for the work, Fossey said.
"It's a project that was going to be a premium owner/occupier and their sales team fitted the profile."
Gavin Lloyd of CBRE, who is leading sales, has experience in Sydney, which Fossey said he valued.
Asked why the consented tower will be 57 levels, Fossey said that was "within the building envelope", so it complied with planning regulations.
About 20 to 30 per cent of Pacifica pre-sales had been made to foreigners, he said - mainly Chinese, after the project was marketed in Shanghai.
By May, deposits had been taken on 82 units, priced from $657,000 to $5.875m, from level eight to level 52.
By August 18 - the most recent sales figures Hengyi will provide - Lloyd said deposits had been paid on more than half the units, worth a combined $200m - even though nothing exists yet.
"This includes $14.5m generated from the sale of three luxury penthouses in the past few weeks, which have sold in prices ranging from $4.48m to $5.275m," Lloyd said.
Australian builder Icon Co won the construction contract and Fossey said it now had an office here for its first New Zealand job. He said experienced high-rise construction chief Dan Ashby - who worked on the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Takapuna's Sentinel, the Chancery in Auckland's CBD and Nautilus at Orewa - will head Icon locally.
But will the huge Pacifica project flood the market for apartments?
In a study, Colliers International found 1391 new apartment units - including those at Pacifica - in the CBD, 961 on the city fringe and 1443 in suburban areas. Half the units are under construction, but building has not started on the other half.
Pete Evans, Colliers' residential project marketing national director, said next year would see the highest number of Auckland apartments completed in more than a decade - but not enough to meet demand, and only a year's supply.
"In major cities with population growth, we would expect supply to be anywhere between 12 to 24 months. Most apartment projects take two to three years to build, so the current undersupply will remain in the foreseeable future," said Evans. "Auckland's population growth, and banks restricting funding, is not assisting the needed supply of new apartments."
Hengyi Pacific projects:
• Swanston Central: Core now rising for the 72-level, 1039-apartment project, 168 Victoria St, Carlton, Melbourne.
• Light House: 69 levels, 607 apartments, 450 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Opened a few weeks ago.
• The William: Two towers converted from office to residential, 21 and 23 storeys high, 531 apartments, 199 William St, Melbourne. Completed 2014.
• The Pacifica: Planned for Commerce St/Gore St, Auckland CBD
- 57-level apartment/hotel tower
- Construction due to start next month
- Architects: Plus Architecture
- Builder: Icon Co of Australia; project manager Kiwi Dan Ashby
- 282 apartments and a boutique hotel, restaurant and cafe
- Height: 178m
- Show suite: Level 9, 152 Quay St, by appointment with sole agents CBRE
Source: Hengyi Pacific
How they see it
The plans for downtown Auckland's giant tower have drawn a mixture of reactions:
• Larry Murphy, professor of human geography, Auckland University School of Environment: "The big issues relate to land from an environmental point of view: the impact on the downtown and waterfront but also issues about body corporate management and the future of these high-rise developments. Another issue is post the Grenfell Towers in London experience, what people think about living in high towers."
• Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland Council design champion: "It is sensational and sophisticated."
• Professor John Tookey, head of the Built Environment department at AUT: "It's a skills issue, getting enough people to do it. They will be dipping into the same labour pool, unless they're bringing significant new resources. It's an ongoing issue. We're not producing appropriate skills as an industry."
• Leonie Freeman, a Goodman Property Trust director and Auckland Housing Summit organising committee chairwoman: "It is great to see quality apartments being built in the central city and the creation of another iconic building. I think it is a good thing for the city and adds further to the housing supply."
• Julian Mitchell, architect with Mitchell & Stout: "It's a huge super-sleek building with serious international aspirations but I'd not call it iconic. I'm generally supportive of high-rise residential buildings in inner city environments like this, so in that respect I think it is good for the vitality of the city."
• Andrew Eagles, Green Building Council chief executive: "It looks like each of the apartments comes with storage for a bike and a locker in the basement, so that is positive. There is a lot of glass in the design, which suggests that the apartments will need a lot of heating in winter and a good bit of cooling in the summer." (Hengyi says the apartments will be double glazed).. "Projects like this could be iconic and a real showcase for Auckland. More apartment providers verify the quality of their apartments with Homestar, proving the homes are 20-30 per cent warmer and comfortable than building code. It would be good news if Pacifica did the same."
• Patrick Reynolds, of transport and urban issues group Greater Auckland: "The mirror glass ribbon effect is not my cup of tea and feels rather chintzy and dated. I have no problem with the height and scale, and great to see they are not excavating a huge carpark basement, as this simply generates more inner-city traffic and makes the cost of each apartment much higher and the disruption of the build greater and way longer. Our planning regulations - even after the Unitary Plan - compress density into the city centre so this scale is very much a result of all the Nimby action to prevent mid-size building along arterials and transport routes."