Its windows are covered in grime, one is boarded up, its footpath littered with leaves, surrounded by the homeless. Yet for more than five decades, it was Auckland Council's multi-million-dollar 18-level towering headquarters, the centre of civic life, a place pulsing with people and energy. So why has the heritage-listed Civic Administration Building stood empty for half a decade, despite a promise that it would be at the centre of a $500 million CBD revitalisation?
The ex-Auckland Council headquarters in central Auckland has stood empty for the past five years and now a councillor wants answers.
Councillor Mike Lee said the building has been empty for half a decade and is demanding a full investigation into why the valuable 18-level Civic Administration Building (CAB) remains unused after it was sold for a $300m development project which has never eventuated.
"I opposed the sale - more like giveaway - of the CAB, though councillors were never given a clear-cut opportunity to make a decision," Lee said today, criticising the sale process announced in 2016 but which he said was not transparent.
"I opposed the mass evacuation of council staff from the purpose-built CAB to the former ASB Bank headquarters and the costs of 135 Albert St which are still mounting."
Christine Fletcher, another councillor, supports Lee. She said the CAB "has been empty for about five years and it's shameful, an outrage, unthinkable that this has happened".
"This was the last straw, which resulted in me supporting John Tamihere," she said of the rival mayoral candidate.
Staff began moving out of the CAB for their new leaky headquarters in 2014 so Lee said it had now been half a decade since the tower emptied out. Since then, no one has lived or worked there, although a marketing suite has developed inside on the ground floor.
"Five years is long enough for this financially irresponsible proposal," he said, referring to the council having negotiated a deal with developer John Love who proposed a project of $200m to $300m claiming it would "add up to $500m into the economy".
• Lee's motion in the full governing body agenda for tomorrow is here .
Developer John Love of Love & Co planned an ambitious, expansive four-building project which included converting the CAB into apartments, erecting a second apartment building, building a boutique hotel and a "whare tapere" performance space fronting Aotea Square.
Despite a high-profile marketing campaign which involved agent Sally Ridge selling apartments, nothing happened and now Lee wants action.
The CAB Apartments offers boutique city living, where one of NZ's prized heritage buildings will be transformed into modern living. To find out more e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org— Sally Ridge (@sallyridge) May 7, 2018
Or visit website to find out more: https://t.co/kq99nRmvLH pic.twitter.com/bSwMjKr12Z
Lee has put forward a motion tomorrow, demanding that the council-controlled property division Panuku Development Auckland stop the process of selling the heritage-listed tower.
Lee has asked: "That the governing body instructs Panuku Development Auckland to suspend any sale or transfer of ownership of the historic [Civic] Administration Building until the council has been provided with a full report of the commercial details of the proposed transaction, including the price, and how the outstanding heritage concerns relating to this Category A listed building have been resolved."
Panuku is handling the CAB and surrounding land sale and its development director Allan Young said the Love deal was still on.
"The Civic Administration Building is owned by Auckland Council. On behalf of council, Panuku is continuing to work through the details of a development agreement with Love & Co, which is confidential and cannot be discussed. This includes the price.
"We hope to conclude this process soon, at which point an announcement will be made," Young said.
Lee said the building was iconic, had heritage status and people had a right to know what was going on behind the scenes.
"The CAB is a purpose-built council administration building in the civic centre of Auckland with 18 floors, 40,000sq m of office space in the heart of the CBD.
"What is the opportunity costs of leaving it empty for five years? This is irresponsible financial management of ratepayers' property, other people's money. Has the council received no money from Love for the CAB? I believe not - but that is the sort of information we are trying to extract," a frustrated Lee said.
"The whole affair sums up what is wrong with council - commercially inept and incompetent custodians of the public interest."
Chris Darby, planning committee chairman, said he also wanted information but not just on the CAB and the Love deal but on wider surrounds.
"It's important to understand the wider Aotea precinct and context, rather than cherry-pick any particular pet part. The council has a contractual arrangement with Love & Co which extends to more than restoring and enlivening the historic former CAB. Our contract extends to a comprehensive plan for the soulless area around the CAB, including a radical new public arts venue, whare tapere," Darby said today.
"The Bledisloe carpark redevelopment opportunity fits into the overall equation too. That should be an exemplar development that knits neatly into the wider precinct and what will become New Zealand's busiest rail station, Aotea," Darby said, referring to the $4.4b City Rail Link.
The Herald reported in September 2016 how Love had been selected for the project on prime land alongside Aotea Square.
Love has so far not responded to media inquiries about the issues.
Aotea project '$500m boost to economy'
In September 2016, when the four-building project on land between Mayoral Dr, Greys Ave and Aotea Square was originally announced, Love put the value of what he planned at $200m to $300m.
"Those numbers were our actual spend at that time," he later said in January, 2017.
"But then we went away and talked to some people about the flow-on value into the economy and jobs in hospitality, apartments. The early estimates is that the project could add up to $500m into the economy. When you spend a dollar, it has a flow-on effect. The $500m is the estimate of the overall economic benefit of the project."
Construction work was planned to start in the 2017 winter, Love said at the time.
Last September, Panuku development director Clive Fuhr attributed the drawn-out negotiations on the sale to Love to challenging times for apartment sales, complex resource consent issues with the Category A heritage Civic building and difficulties securing construction contracts.
Fuhr said Panuku and Love's company, Civic Lane, were addressing remaining matters to enable the sale agreement to become unconditional.
"Both parties are committed to working through these matters as quickly as possible. This does involve several parties, which adds a level of complexity. Panuku is willing to extend the agreement while meaningful progress is being made to reach the desired outcome," Fuhr said last year.
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