'Ghost town' to come back to life

HIGH HOPES: Jeff Montgomery plans to turn his two Tonks Grove cottages into serviced apartments, which he says will attract overseas visitors.
HIGH HOPES: Jeff Montgomery plans to turn his two Tonks Grove cottages into serviced apartments, which he says will attract overseas visitors.

A heritage area in central Wellington is set to finally shed its "ghost town" tag as new owners take over historic houses that have been empty for years.

Nearly all of the properties in the Tonks Grove precinct that were moved in 2006 during construction of Wellington's $40 million inner-city bypass have now been sold. It cost $3m to move the buildings.

The sales, which will net the Government $7.5m, close a chapter that dragged on for four years and turned the area into a magnet for drinking, drug-taking and prostitution.

New uses for the buildings will include serviced apartments aimed at international tourists and "heritage rental properties".

Deb Hume, Wellington regional director of the New Zealand Transport Agency, said it was hoped the sales would revitalise the area, which takes in Tonks Grove near Cuba St, Kensington St, Oak Park Ave and parts of Willis St.

All but two of the 17 buildings put on the market had attracted acceptable offers from the 85 tenders received, she said.

Five were sold for between $750,000 and $1m, one for between $500,000 and $750,000 and nine had a sale price of under $500,000.

Only the former Stagecraft Theatre in Kensington St and the former Willis St Bar Bodega building received tenders that were too low, she said. The process had taken so long because of the need to offer iwi and original owners a chance to buy the houses, as well as "complex Crown procedures and the number of parties involved".

NZTA refurbished the exterior of the buildings, but most still need a complete interior refurbishment.

City Bed and Breakfast owner Jeff Montgomery paid about $600,000 for two cottages at No 1 and No 3 Tonks Grove. He plans to turn them into serviced apartments that will cost between $170 and $230 a night and attract international tourists and businesspeople.

He put the apartments on his website and already had four bookings from December, when they would be ready, he said.

The heritage value of the houses prompted him to buy them.

"The fact that people could live in a cottage that was built by one of the early families in Wellington – that's all part of it for an international visitor."

The cottages were built in the 1880s by the Tonks family, along with other houses in the area.

Property developer Brett Mainey bought the home of original settler Kate Tonks in Kensington St, along with two other buildings. The houses would be "meticulously rebuilt on the inside", he said.

Other buildings include the former drop-in centre Catacombs and former boarding house Avonside in Oak Park Ave, both of which will be restored by new owner-occupiers.

The Dominion Post