An international hotel chain has pulled out of a deal to build a hotel in Whangārei, delighting opponents of the plan, which would have meant a unique and historic block of flats being demolished.
Now the battle is on to save the flats - Almond Court, in Dent St.
Whangārei District Council signed a deal in 2019 to sell land on Dent St - also known as Fire Brigade Hill - to Millennium & Copthorne Hotels New Zealand (MCK) for $2.15 million for a hotel development on the site.
But the proposed deal meant Almond Court, a red brick block of six flats overlooking Laurie Hall Park, would have to be demolished as the company wanted a clean site before any hotel went ahead.
However, Whangārei architects Felicity Christian, Grant Harris and architectural designer Helen Beran were angry that the flats were to be demolished with no guarantee the hotel development will proceed.
They said this was a real possibility as Millennium Copthorne slashed staff numbers and closed rooms last year amid the Covid pandemic that stopped overseas tourists from coming here.
Christian said the flats were a unique part of the city's architectural heritage and it would be a travesty if they were demolished for nothing.
Yesterday, Millennium Copthorne announced it was pulling out of the deal, citing the change in the tourism and accommodation sectors since the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We are disappointed that we are not able to proceed with the proposed development but the landscape for tourism and accommodation has changed beyond measure since the agreement for the land was entered into in 2019", MCK managing director BK Chiu said.
"After a lot of time and work on this project, we have had to make the very difficult decision not to take this agreement further."
Christian was delighted that the hotel plan had been abandoned - proving that the concerns over demolishing the flats without a guaranteed hotel build were correct - but she was now keen to ensure Almond Court survived.
She said given Whangārei's housing crisis it did not make sense to destroy six flats that could easily be converted into living spaces again and she wanted them revamped and reused for housing people.
Christian met with Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai yesterday to discuss the issue.
The closing date for tenders to demolish Almond Court was March 30.
"We were disappointed to get this news, but we fully understand Millennium & Copthorne's situation,'' WDC CEO Rob Forlong said.
"They have been great to work with and they have not made this decision lightly. Personally, I hope they reconsider building in Whangarei when the global travel market opens up – if not on this site, then maybe another.''
Forlong said, in the meantime, all plans regarding the future of the Almond Court Flats are on hold, and council will be considering their future over the months to come.
''No contract has been let for their demolition. That project is now on hold."
Forlong said Whangārei city and the district were becoming more attractive every year as a place to visit, to explore, to enjoy events and to live.
"Despite the difficulties Covid-19 has brought us, we have remained a vibrant and thriving centre. We continue to grow, our outlook is positive and I am sure we will be an attractive proposition for a four-star hotel developer in future."
Councillor Trish Cutforth, who was going to introduce a notice to council to try to prevent the demolition, was pleased the hotel plan had been scrapped and the demolition was on hold.
''It's fantastic news. This gives time to look at what to do with that site and my preference is for housing for inner city living.''
And that includes keeping Almond Court.