Queries over viability of new Auckland skyscraper

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2014
TALLEST: The 52 storey, 209-metre tall commercial development by Shanghai-based New Development Group (NDG).
TALLEST: The 52 storey, 209-metre tall commercial development by Shanghai-based New Development Group (NDG).

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A 52-storey skyscraper given the green light in Auckland has been welcomed by city planners, but raised questions about whether it can be fully tenanted.

Auckland mayor Len Brown announced yesterday that the 209 metre-high Auckland Centre would be New Zealand's tallest habitable commercial building, eclipsed only by the 328m Sky Tower for height.

The $350 million project is backed by Chinese company New Development Group. A council spokesman said the group kept a low profile in New Zealand and preferred to let the council do the talking.

NDG is hoping to get building consent by next year, with a completion target of 2020.

The building will include a 320-room hotel, cinema, restaurants, shops and sky decks. It will be built on a long-vacant site on the corner of Elliott and Victoria streets, where the Royal International Hotel stood before it was demolished in the late 1980s.

Brown welcomed the project as another investment which would help enhance the city centre.

"Alongside the Sky Tower, this will be a world-class development for Auckland that will create hundreds of new jobs, energise the CBD and boost Auckland's GDP."

Bill McKay, associate head of Auckland University's school of architecture, said the important factor was not so much its height or size but the building's contribution to the local economy.

"I think revitalisation of the city's centre is about something different than just putting up a really large building."

Other big schemes, often with a hotel, had started out ambitiously but ended up catering for backpackers or $2 shops. Although the city would be bigger through migration and population growth in six years, he had doubts Auckland's centre could sustain the project.

"When you look at high street, which is basically dying off at the expense of Britomart, there' s a limited number of bars, restaurants, shops et cetera that you can have of a certain type for a city this size. And we're not a really condensed city, with a big population. We're a sprawling kind of LA city, so we don't have the big population to sustain the really tall buildings."

However, council "design champion" Ludo Campbell-Reid disagreed with McKay, saying the mixed-use building would breathe new life into Auckland's mid-city.

"We are seeing disused sites becoming viable again and design that references a revived city centre where people are considered first and foremost. This is an exciting time for Auckland."

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Developer NDG has extensive interests in Asia and elsewhere in hotels, the wood industry, construction and real estate. It has 16 subsidiaries, including Harcourts Real Estate (Shanghai), and total assets worth RMB5 billion (NZ$1b), according to its website.

- BusinessDay

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