Rivals vie for Christchurch retail spots

TOP CONTENDER: An artist’s impression of the $200 million Westpac-Goodman  office and retail project proposed for central Christchurch.
TOP CONTENDER: An artist’s impression of the $200 million Westpac-Goodman office and retail project proposed for central Christchurch.

The Australian powerhouse duo of the Westpac Bank and the Goodman Group have shown their hand in the battle to redevelop central Christchurch's shopping area.

But the $200 million office and retail project between the Bridge of Remembrance and Ballantynes could fail if the Government does not move fast and help pick a winner from the many rival bids for the same site, backers say.

After the launch of the central-city blueprint recovery plan in July, the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) called for outline development plans (ODPs) to rebuild the four blocks between High St and Oxford Tce as an upmarket retail precinct.

CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said the city's shops and corporate office space would be concentrated in a small area to create an economic engine that would drive the recovery.

A minimum size of half a city block was placed on the ODPs to force existing building owners to band together and put forward integrated neighbourhood designs. Outside investors were allowed to suggest plans even if they did not own any central-city land.

The south Cashel St block has turned into a dogfight between three rival submissions, including Westpac-Goodman as the heavyweight international proposal.

On Thursday, architect's impressions of their plan were released after the filing of a consent application to the Christchurch City Council.

Reactions have been positive. Michael Wolfe, a commercial property specialist at lawyers Lane Neave, said the Westpac-Goodman ODP was exactly the "ready to go" proposal the CCDU would have been hoping for.

He said the problem was that Westpac-Goodman would have to buy out the 13 building owners, some of whom do not want to sell as they are promoting their own ODP proposals.

Wolfe said the unanswered question was whether the CCDU would be willing to force the issue by calling on the Government's powers of compulsory purchase - or even if it legally could.

"The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act does confer some wide powers, but they have to be exercised in an appropriate way," he said.

Colliers International managing director Hamish Doig, representing Westpac-Goodman, said time was critical because Christchurch's A-grade office tenants were sitting in the suburbs on short-term leases after the earthquakes. Most must decide their next step early next year.

Doig said that if the CCDU did not push the retail precinct competition to a quick resolution, there was danger that tenants could sign 10 to 15-year leases elsewhere.

"At the most critical time in the recovery, the foot's come off the throttle. They've said, ‘Boys, go fend for yourselves'," Doig said.

Isaacs said he believed the rival groups would be able to reach a commercial deal.

The Press