City's abandoned administration building is an ideal home for a displaced record store ... and a cultural HQ.

Who better to breathe new life into the abandoned Civic Administration Building than mega music store Real Groovy Records. That was my instant reaction to news that the massive old barn of a building the store has occupied for 25 years is to be knocked over early next year to make way for apartments, and Real Groovy was looking for a new home nearby.

Tucked in alongside the Aotea Centre, the Town Hall and Q Theatre in the middle of the CBD performing arts precinct, a new home in the administration building seemed an ideal solution for the legendary music shop, and for the cash-strapped Auckland Council.

It has been carrying this non-earner on its books since the bureaucrats and politicians jumped ship for their plush, newly refurbished HQ alongside the SkyCity complex last Christmas.

Trouble is, more time was spent on acquiring a bigger and better new head office, than on what would become of the cast-off, and it's now become a bit like the old family car - an unwanted trade-in, a dunga to be got rid of to any mug willing to buy it.


In April last year, the bureaucrats went further and recommended the car wreckers.

They advised councillors "the high cost of refurbishment" - a figure of at least $70 million was proposed - would "significantly exceed" its investment value, and "the economically rational decision would be to demolish the building".

To their credit, councillors baulked at the proposal to bowl a classic - in New Zealand at least - of the "modernist style" and asked officials to research the market for any interest.

It took seven months but, finally, in November they came back with the word that a freehold residential conversion, possibly a hotel, was seen as the best option. Councillors decided to mull it over and meet again after Christmas.

In February they agreed to go direct to the market for expressions of interest. Now, after four months, there's to be a workshop for councillors this month "to confirm requirements to be built into the request for proposal process to seek private sector investment interest".

And then after that, if councillors agree, developers will be asked to submit any proposals.

In the background is a belated bid to have the 1966 high-rise listed as a heritage building. Unless the council agrees to the proposal from Heritage New Zealand and others, a hearing will take place in September.

Meanwhile all this indecision has stalled planning for development of the surrounding arts precinct; in particular, the council's arts, culture and entertainment arm, Regional Facilities Auckland, plans to base national and regional performing arts organisations together alongside the venues.


One proposal is to move the Regional Facilities offices out of the Aotea Centre into the administration building, alongside the likes of NZ Opera and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and use the space freed in the Aotea Centre for a new rehearsal space.

But none of this can proceed without a decision on the future of the administration building. And unless councillors change their minds and require any testing of the private market to include office space for these arts organisations in the brief, the delay in the budgeted upgrading of the Aotea Centre will drag on.

The unwelcome spectre lurking in the background is the asbestos fire protection, wrapped around the building's steel skeleton.

Officials claim it becomes a problem each time the building has to be opened up to get to service ducts and the like. This, they say, prevents it being let on either a short- or long-term basis in its present condition.

They say that if a service duct is opened and any airborne asbestos is monitored, the whole floor would have to evacuated for remediation. That would rule out a commercial tenant, such as Real Groovy, on an "as-is" basis.

This means the once proud centre of Auckland local government will remain empty until councillors stop calling for reports and make a decision.


Hopefully the initial "expert" advice to bowl the building is now off the table. That leaves them with the question, do they want a privatised block of apartments or a hotel slap bang in the centre of Auckland's publicly-owned arts precinct, or do they want a refurbished publicly- owned administration hub for Auckland arts organisations and related activities.