Auckland lawyers are fighting over the sale of their $14 million historic Chancery Chambers headquarters building in the city's central business district, with the hierarchy proposing to quit but some members vehemently disagreeing and the issue due to go to a vote tomorrow.
Joanna Pidgeon, Auckland District Law Society president, said although a recommendation had been made by the entity's elected council to sell the property at 2-8 Chancery St, members were yet to vote.
"We are having a consultative meeting but will go to a postal vote after that," she said this morning.
But Serge Roud of Loughlin McGuire barristers and solicitors emailed members last month, complaining of "extremely unsatisfactory management of the ADLS building" and said that due to that, the proposal had been put to sell the building.
Others backed him and sent a copy of his email to the Herald.
Roud complained about a two-week notice period given to members before the sale vote and objected to the "irreversible step of selling the building". He demanded to know how much income was generated by the tenants, the scope of the financial shortfall and how owning the building would jeopardise the society's future plans.
He called for the existing council to be sacked: "We need a new council and new management who will abandon the focus on abstract ideas of being a nationwide organisation, not try to usurp the functions of the New Zealand Law Society and rather focus on providing benefits to, and protecting the interests and property of, the members of Auckland District Law Society."
In response, Pidgeon said a question and answer sheet has been sent to members which put the facts before everyone.
That indicated the building needed money spent on it, was too big because the organisation had shrunk, money would be better spent elsewhere and the society had not ruled out buying smaller premises.
"We are re-evaluating some things that we may not have considered a few years ago, including whether it's sensible for us to own a commercially tenanted heritage building. The Chancery Chambers building is large. When it was purchased 29 years ago, ADLS was the regulator and its employees occupied the entire building. Today, ADLS has fewer employees and to provide services to our members we only need to occupy and use about a quarter of the space," the Q&A document said.
Membership outside Auckland had increased to the point where 44 per cent were not in the city.
So the society's elected council had looked at reports on the building, including the long-term maintenance plan prepared by specialist property consultants, and had discussed the pros and cons of a sale, including the financial and social impacts.
"While generally property is a sound investment over time, the age and heritage status of this building does require a reasonable annual investment, both financial and time, to keep it maintained to the required standard, including any applicable legislation. These will likely increase the risks in the future of the building as an investment," the document said.
The society has no mortgage or debt on the 1924 Category 2 heritage building. It had a valuation last year of $14m and has 29 tenants, 3800sq m of space on eight levels, excluding the airspace above, the document said.
That airspace could potentially be sold under Auckland Council's transferable development rights programme but Pidgeon said "development rights have already been sold so are not available now."
The society would initially stay in the building for a fixed number of years as a tenant, the document said, and "we don't want to make any rushed decisions and to keep our options open, if this was not possible, we would likely rent for a period of time".
The Q&A document said members would vote at a special general meeting being held at 5.30pm tomorrow.
Heritage New Zealand lists the property as the AA Mutual Insurance Building and says it is an Historic Place Category 2.
According to information on a site advertising space in the building, Chancery Chambers "stands on the site of Acacia Cottage once home to the late Sir John Logan Campbell and believed to have been Auckland's first European-type dwelling. Chancery Chambers was designed by French-Canadian architect J Sholto Smith of Mullions & Smith. Many of Auckland's well-known identities have worked in the building which for a time housed a tea room in the sixth floor tower and a Turkish bath complex in the basement."