Developers plan to demolish the 107-year-old Yates Building on Albert St in Auckland's central business district, sparking a historic building campaigner to call the plans "pathetic".

The carparking building on the corner of Wolfe St and Federal St, behind the Yates Building.
The carparking building on the corner of Wolfe St and Federal St, behind the Yates Building.

Peter Wall of Auckland said he is working with Singapore-based investors to plan a "substantial" development on the Yates site and the former office block behind it.

But Allan Matson, a heritage consultant, was upset to hear of plans to demolish all of the Yates except its outside, which he said is "façadism at its worst. It's getting a façadomy. They should just pull it down. It's an insult. It's offensive to leave it there."

Façadism is the architectural practice of demolishing everything except the front façade of an old building, to which a newer, much larger building is attached. The fronts sometimes appear like those in old Hollywood Westerns because what is left of the original structure is nothing more than a skin.

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Auckland Council's Unitary Plan lists the building's façade at 13 Albert St as a Category B with significant history. In 2012, an Environment Court hearing on the building heard from consultant Dr Ann McEwan who said the former Arthur Yates & Co office and warehouse between Albert, Wolfe and Federal Sts should be ranked A. The buildings were intimately connected with a person of national importance - Arthur Yates, who turned Yates & Co into the largest seed company in the colonies, she said.

Wall is working with Top Maple's Singapore-based directors Jocelyn Wan Sze Kum, Michael Soh Har Kum, Lynda Bee Young Ong and Michael Perry of Australia. The British Virgin Islands company was registered in 2010.

Matson said this morning: "It's pathetic but something I've come to expect in Auckland. I'm disappointed that people lack the vision to incorporate this historic building into a future development. The Yates Building is important for reasons relating to its social history as the warehouse and office of the major seed company, built in 1911. It has architectural merit and significant history.

"In spite of the council's expert assessing the building as almost entirely Category A, the court resulted in the office façade only being listed as Category B and this has led to the inevitable scourge of further façadism," Matson said.

Wall said: "The Yates guts will be demolished but the façade - its heritage - will be retained. There's a requirement for that, a bit like the Jean Batten Building. The brief is to retain the readability of the old heritage buildings so it's quite a challenge."

Matson, seen here on Fanshawe St, is angry about plans for the Yates building. Photo/Dean Purcell
Matson, seen here on Fanshawe St, is angry about plans for the Yates building. Photo/Dean Purcell

Wall said the developers planned to build on 9 Wolfe St as well as the Yates site and a "substantial" multi-level commercial project was planned, maximising gross floor area ratios under the Unitary Plan: "That will be mixed-use with retail at the ground levels on Albert, Federal and Wolfe St. It could be a hotel and apartments but we're only at the concept planning stage," he stressed.

Residents in the Stamford Plaza apartments have been watching with interest as a building is being demolished on a nearby run-down central Auckland city site, long expected to be developed for commercial or hotel use.

Demolition work of the low-rise former commercial block-turned carparking building is underway at 9 Wolfe St across Albert St and down Wolfe St from the Stamford.

That building being demolished is behind the Yates, a block away from the new Commercial Bay project, worth nearly $1 billion.

The carparking building on the Yates/Federal St corner, before demolition work.
The carparking building on the Yates/Federal St corner, before demolition work.

"Finally, some movement," said one owner of a multi-million-dollar Stamford apartment, frustrated at the many years the Yates and corner building had been empty.

Auckland Council records showed Top Marple Investment won resource consent in January for the work.

The council documents show the site is 759sq m.

Plants were once grown at the nursery on the rooftop of the Yates Building, Albert St.
Plants were once grown at the nursery on the rooftop of the Yates Building, Albert St.

Paul Foley, a partner at Minter Ellison, acts for the applicants and after the Herald asked about plans, he sent queries to his clients about their plans for the site. Wall responded to that inquiry.

In 2010, clean-up work was carried out on the former Yates Building, which sits between Link House and the Food Alley on the corner of Albert St and Wolfe St.

Former Yates building at 13 Albert St whose facade is rated as a heritage B structure.
Former Yates building at 13 Albert St whose facade is rated as a heritage B structure.

The council footed the bill for the clean-up of the graffiti-covered heritage building. The Herald reported how the council announced it would remove graffiti and the blocks were clean of any tags shortly after that announcement.

Read more: CBD Albert St site ideal for hotel development

The site was being marketed last year along two other titles at 13 and 15 Albert St. All three titles are on 1228sq m and the agents said 9 Wolfe St encompassed 759sq m of land.