Published 22 October 2014
A 39-storey apartment tower – 10 storeys taller than one deemed inappropriate by the urban design panel a decade ago – will rise on the Queen St side of a restored St James Theatre under a redevelopment plan by its new owner, ReliaNZ Holdings LP.
The limited partnership’s general partner is St James Suites GP Ltd (Li Na, Greenlane). The Li family, which settled its $30 million-plus purchase of the theatre building between Queen & Lorne Sts last Friday, stayed out of the limelight yesterday when media were shown through the long-derelict building.
Instead project manager Mike Gibbon fronted for them. Mr Gibbon’s company, Elemental Construction Solutions Ltd, will run the St James Suites project and he will be development director for ReliaNZ.
The fate of the theatre complex at 302 Queen St wasn’t controversial when Force Corp Ltd bought it in the late 1990s and got consent for a 30-storey tower, which would have seen the St James retained but the Regent & West End cinemas demolished, but became controversial after Paul Doole bought it and proposed a residential tower.
Mr Doole bought the property from Force Corp for $8.5 million in 2001, and got consent in 2003 to demolish the old cinemas and develop a 239-unit apartment building on the Queen St side of the site, refurbishing the St James.
The city council gave him non-notified consent, but High Court judge Patrick Keane overturned that in December 2004 after a campaign against it by the Urban Auckland lobby group. The judge told the council it could – “and should” – take design into account when it considers consent applications. The council stepped up its urban design position, with expansion of the urban design panel & creation of a new urban design watchdog.
After a presentation in April 2005, the urban design panel said Mr Doole’s 36-storey masonry design (29 apartment floors above a podium) “is currently not of appropriate scale to the predominant heritage character of the area.”
He returned with a glass curtain wall version, which won approval. But by then the campaign to restore the St James was under way, the council talked about buying the theatre but didn’t front with the money, and the building became more dilapidated.
The new development proposal is consented, will involve the Auckland Notable Properties Trust as a partner in the theatre restoration and retains the parking floors. Assessment of the building is expected to take the next 6-9 months, enabling construction to start in the second half of 2015 for completion in 2018.
Mr Gibbon said the apartment development would cost about $175 million. It will contain 307 apartments – 165 one-bedroom units of 48m², 120 of 2 bedrooms & 75m², 16 of 3 bedrooms & in the upper-90m² range, and “half a dozen larger penthouses” – and 195 parking spaces have been allocated for residents. Apartments would have 2.65m ceilings.
The development design contains a 25m pool and there will be a 24/7 concierge service. Mr Gibbon said the units hadn’t been finally priced yet but marketing would start early next year. He expected prices to be “at the lower end” of the current new-apartment range of $10-13,000/m².
The development will also include 3000m² of retail fronting Queen St and on the first floor. What the basement of about 1300m² will be turned into hasn’t yet been decided, but Mr Gibbon said it was a good size for a supermarket.
Mr Gibbon said members of the Li family came to Auckland from Shanghai more than 25 years ago, initially for schooling, then decided to stay. One family member graduated from Auckland University with a degree in piano, and Mr Gibbon said this passion for the arts fuelled the drive to restore the St James.
Mr Gibbon’s own experience in his 30 years in the construction industry includes 9 years as project manager on development of highrise apartment buildings with 2 Auckland developers before he & Jason Smith formed Elemental in 2009. They also have a 59-lot residential subdivision under way in Hamilton.
“I’ve project-managed 3-4 highrise apartment buildings. I know what apartments are good, what makes a bad apartment environment. This will be fully compliant, no borrowed light (backrooms without direct sunlight), no small kitchens.”
21 April 2006: Design panel tells Doole glass looks better on his masonry-style Antipodean
9 May 2005: Doole project’s scale deemed inappropriate – raising questions about urban design panel
Attribution: Company release, theatre presentation.