D-DAY was June 6, 1944, when Allied troops landed to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany ... now we have had our own D-Day — or Demolition Day — here in Whanganui.
The district council has had to grapple with what is likely to be one of many applications to demolish our heritage buildings.

The first aplication was for the Thain's building at 1 Victoria Ave, which an independent commissioner earlier this month wisely refused to allow.

After the devastating Christchurch earthquakes of 2011, which highlighted the risk to New Zealanders from earthquake-prone buildings, the government introduced The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016.

It came into force last year, mandating that earthquake-prone buildings be strengthened to a certain standard, or be demolished.


That is unless they are a registered heritage building, and then the bunfight starts.

Because what happens when owners cannot afford to earthquake-proof their building, or even demolish them for that matter? Who pays to protect and restore it?

A lack of funds to earthquake-proof was the issue for Tony Karantze, the Napier-based owner of the Thain's building.

He has been unable to sell the building and, although he had no personal intention of demolishing it, he believed that marketing it with a demolition consent would have made the it more saleable.

Neither could he afford the cost of demolition, he said, which could be in the vicinity of $250,000.

If the application had been granted, the community would have lost a building that probably has far more value to the community than it does to anyone else because of its history, architecture and very significant location.

So, no surprises that numerous members of the local community objected to the demolition application at an independent hearing on August 9 and 10.

Submitters made many relevant arguments against demolition and suggested many a proposal to revamp the building. However, talk is cheap and someone has to put their money where their mouth is to save this building and return it to its former glory.


From what I know about this property, and property investment in general, I think Mr Karantze has, unfortunately, inherited a lemon from his father, who purchased the building in 1984 for $125,000.

The building is still on the market but when I asked him, Mr Karantze was rather guarded in what he is hoping to achieve for it. After all, he wants as much as he can get for it, just as any of us would want to do if we owned it.

The property is not listed at a specific price, but it is open for offers.

Steve Baron
Steve Baron

An offer of $120,000 was turned down — Mr Karantze believed that figure to be unrealistic, but I suspect it is not worth what he believes it is worth, and other property owners with similar buildings will soon find the same.

You can't blame owners for wanting to maximise their investment or to improve their lot, but it can't happen at the expense of our community.

These buildings may be millstones around their necks, but it is important to protect our heritage buildings. If they are lemons to their owners, they cannot expect to be able to turn them into lemonade at the community's expense.

While the community may come to the rescue of this building, and others like it, at some point — perhaps through a crowd-funded, non-profit trust, for example — they are unlikely to want to put their hard-earned money into an owner's pocket.

Unfortunately for the owners of these types of buildings, their investments have not produced the returns they had probably hoped for, and I suspect they will have to settle for what the market is prepared to pay for lemons.

Steve Baron is a Whanganui-based political commentator, author and founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds degrees in economics and political science.