A substantial central city site is about to be unlocked for potential future development following a decision by its longstanding owner to sell the land and a 142-year-old landmark building located on part of it.

The 3114sq m site at 15-27 Beresford Square, near the intersection of Pitt St and Karangahape Rd, features the historic Alpha Hopetoun Hall (formerly known as St James Church), one of New Zealand's oldest surviving examples of a building constructed of poured concrete.

"The building has a high level of heritage protection and will remain a permanent feature of the property and the area," says Alan Haydock, manager of Bayleys' Auckland City & Fringe commercial team. "However, the Hopetoun Alpha is located near the top of the eastern side of the sloping site. There is a large amount of land below it, currently used for casual car parking, which would provide a superb residential and/or commercial development opportunity under its City Centre zoning.

"It's one of only a few quality larger sites which remain available for development in the inner city. The property's unobstructed north-facing corner position means it would offer sensational harbour and CBD views. Also increasing its development appeal are multiple road frontages and access points."

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The property is for sale by tender closing Wednesday September 26, unless sold prior, and is being marketed by Haydock and his colleague Damien Bullick.

It was purchased in 1994 by Auckland businessman and philanthropist Ashton Wylie in order to restore and preserve the historic building which at that stage had no heritage protection. The Ashton Wylie Charitable Trust has owned the property since the death of Ashton Wylie in 1999. The building has a New Zealand Historic Places Grade 1 rating and is listed as a Category A heritage building by Auckland Council.

Land below the building, used for casual car parking, is ideal for development. Photo / Supplied
Land below the building, used for casual car parking, is ideal for development. Photo / Supplied

"This character building has been meticulously refurbished and maintained by the trust and has been rented out to church groups and for one off events," says Haydock. "The excellent acoustics and elegant design of the hall have made it popular for events such as musical and theatrical performances, lectures, weddings, as well as product launches and other corporate functions.

"The Hopetoun Alpha building is being offered for sale with vacant possession and provides a range of future options for the purchaser as does the adjoining land."

Haydock says the land, which has frontages onto Hopetoun St and Pitt St as well as Beresford Square, is in two titles, although one of these is only 166sq m.

"A concept plan has been drawn up for a boundary realignment which would place the Hopetoun Alpha on one title and allow for good car parking around it, with the under-utilised land below it on another larger title," says Haydock. "This would provide increased flexibility to the new owner when planning development of the site. However, it would be over to them as whether they seek council approval for the boundary realignment or come up with their own plans for the site."

Wilson Parking New Zealand Ltd currently has a lease over the undeveloped land until December 2019, with one two-year right of renewal which is generating annual holding income of $105,000 plus GST. The company offers monthly rentals on the uncovered parking spaces which are accessed via four entry and exit points on Beresford Square and Pitt St.

However, a clause in the lease enables it to be terminated if the site is to be redeveloped, says Bullick. He says the property benefits from a City Centre zoning, which allows for intensive commercial and residential development up to 35m high, although there is a volcanic view shaft restriction of 27-30m over part of the site.

"The elevated position and sloping nature of the site enhances its development appeal and means that it could be possible to include lower level parking without too much excavation being required. The site has wide ranging views which can't be built out across Hopetoun St and the motorway system to the harbour and the CBD. This makes it ideal for residential development, perhaps with some boutique retail, food and beverage or other commercial space at street level.

"The property is metres from Karangahape Rd and a short walk away from Ponsonby Rd, two of Auckland's most popular shopping, dining and hospitality precincts, as well as being close to the CBD. All of this increases it attraction for residential dwellers which is reflected in the fact that there is already a large cluster of apartment buildings close by."

Bullick says another major advantage of the site longer term will be its closeness to the City Rail Link's Karangahape station, near the intersection of K Rd and Pitt St. The station, scheduled for completion in 2024, will be the CRL's deepest at 32m underground and have 150m long platforms stretching from Mercury Lane to Beresford Square.

The Karangahape station will link with the Britomart transport hub in the CBD via a station at Aotea Square and also connect with existing western line at a new Mt Eden station. "The station will unlock additional high-density residential capacity and generate further urban renewal within an inner-city fringe precinct which will continue to grow and flourish," says Bullick.

The neo-classical Hopetoun Alpha building was originally constructed as The Beresford Street Congregationalist Church in a Grecian Doric style. Six massive fluted columns support the portico at the building's front entrance. The church has a large hall and gallery, added in the 1880s, with six large windows down each side.

Heritage New Zealand says the building is it largely in its original condition and its special features are its classical design and use of concrete construction.

The Congregationalist Independents initially wanted a masonry building but cost constraints meant a radical new building material was considered. This material was poured concrete which had previously only been used in Auckland to build two houses. The church comprised a framed structure infilled with concrete made of six parts of scoria ash and one of Portland cement.

The opening of the church on March 19, 1876 attended by 300 people was led by Sir George Grey, at the time Superintendent of the Auckland Province who became prime minister the following year. The Southern Cross newspaper described the new church as "one of the most suitable and handsome of its kind in the city" and it was noted for its excellent acoustics, the result of curved walls.

In 1925, it became the first church to broadcast a service live across New Zealand. Like most other religions, the Congregationalist church experienced a decline after the Second World War as congregations shrank.

In 1965, the nearby Presbyterian St James Church in Union Street burnt down and the two congregations combined. The Beresford Street Church was renamed St James at this time.

In the 1960s and 70s, the church got more involved in outreach programmes for the poor and needy and a community centre was established in other buildings on the Beresford Square site which have subsequently been demolished.

As a result of the construction of the Auckland motorway system, the population of inner city Auckland, especially Freemans Bay, declined and St James was one of several churches in the area to experience hardship from a combination of ageing buildings and a dwindling number of parishioners.

The Beresford Square building was over a hundred years old and in need of many repairs, which were beyond the ability and finances of the congregation. Eventually a decision to relocate was made in the early 1990s and the building was sold, substantially renovated and renamed Hopetoun Alpha.