An empty building renovated for Whanganui UCOL is being opened to new uses and attracting a lot of interest, the polytechnic's campus manager Bronwyn Paul says.
What she now calls The Backhouse is home to the Confluence co-working and education and film business, the Whanganui Chamber of Commerce, Whanganui Māori Business Network Te Manu Atatū, 100% SWEET and GPSOS 2021 Ltd - with more to come.
The reinforced concrete building was renovated for the polytech's use in 2007. But in the five years that Paul has been campus manager it has been largely empty.
Last year it was used by the Electoral Commission. When that moved out Paul and Whanganui & Partners business strategic lead Tim Easton put their heads together.
They envisaged renting space to businesses and organisations with common interests, and tenants sharing other facilities such as meeting rooms, a kitchen and toilets.
"We are trying to bring like-minded businesses together so that they all feed off great ideas from each other," Paul said.
Her slogan for the place is The Backhouse - where great ideas come forward.
The two lower floors are now mostly full.
UCOL still owns the building, and charges rent. It must break even, but its main purpose is "to be really relevant in the community" through education and training.
Paul and Easton wanted a co-working space in the building, and invited Confluence. Its Watt St lease was up for renewal, co-owner Melita Farley said, and it moved in on July 21.
Confluence has its co-working room on the ground floor, with 14 desks. It has an adjoining meeting room with an interactive projector and it takes bookings for the workshop space and kitchen next door.
Its boutique cinema will be on the next floor, with a box office and sweet stall. It will have more flexibility about film screenings in this new venue.
Being on the ground floor will allow it to advertise films by putting up posters, and it will continue to email 350 people as well. Passing people now drop in, which didn't happen at its previous upstairs office.
The owners are looking for photographs of former activities within the building. These will be printed on large canvas sheets and put up in the co-working space - to give history and muffle sound. High quality files can be emailed to email@example.com or brought to 14 Drews Ave on a device.
The first films in the new venue screen on July 29, and are about plastic pollution. On August 12 there's a special screening, a 58-minute version of This is New Zealand, the film made for Expo '70 in Japan.
It will be followed by a 60-minute film about how the original was made and a Q and A session with its director Hugh Macdonald and technical director Graeme Moffatt.
The film is touring the lower North Island. It's a unique slice of New Zealand history for viewing on a big screen, Confluence co-owner Kevin Double said.
The second floor of The Backhouse will be about business and training. Whanganui Chamber of Commerce CEO Sue Stuart and communications manager Glen Palamountain share an office there.
They had been working from home, and are already feeling the benefits of collaboration.
On the same floor are Te Manu Atatū, 100 % SWEET and Port Employment Precinct operations manager Craig Garner. They have a large training room with desks and laptop computers that is already well used.
GPSOS 2021 Ltd, has an office down the hall.
When GPSOS went into liquidation, two major local investors bought its assets and intellectual property rights from the liquidator. In December they hired Tammi Blair to manage the personal safety alarm business.
The alarms have saved 268 lives so far, Blair said. The company has a new monitoring centre in Hawke's Bay and she and an administrator will share its head office in The Backhouse.
The building itself was constructed in 1926, for general merchants Levin & Co. It was designed by Sidney and Alfred Luttrell in the "Chicago style" to allow for more floors to be added later.
WK Backhouse, a manufacturer of waterproof clothing and tents, bought the building in 1977. It was variously used for manufacture, warehousing, retail and offices until it was bought and renovated by UCOL in 2007.
Its most recent earthquake rating puts it at 45 per cent of new building strength, Farley said.
The third and fourth floors are still empty, but Paul envisages creatives on the third and virtual reality work on the fourth.
"I am absolutely certain we will fill the whole thing," she said.