Frustrated developer prepares to ditch

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2013
Sol Square split screen
John Kirk-Anderson
GOING NOWHERE: SOL Square as it looks today (left) alongside an illustration of how it was imagined post-earthquakes.

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The redevelopment of Christchurch's once vibrant upmarket bar zone SOL Square has stalled because of the financial and legal wrangles left behind by bankrupt entrepreneur David Henderson.

Christchurch developer Max Bremner, who owns the leases on six bars in the square, has been trying to buy the buildings and the land since 2010 but the "fiscal Chernobyl" has left him ready to give up.

"The deal could still be done but everything has just reached a standstill."

Most issues related to Henderson's lenders and creditors, some of whom had fallen into receivership, he said.

The square was owned by Tuam Ventures Limited, which was placed into receivership by the Bank of New Zealand in 2009. The bank was owed more than $8 million and took possession of part of the mortgaged property in 2010.

A company named Property Ventures Limited, of which Henderson is a shareholder and director, owns 25 subsidiary companies, including Tuam Ventures. It was placed into liquidation in 2010.

Its liquidator, Robert Walker, told The Press there was no excuse for the square not being sold. He said the receivership process had been "dithering".

The BNZ appointed Stephen Tubbs and Colin Gower from BDO Christchurch as the joint receivers. Tubbs has declined several requests to comment on the receivership.

A BNZ spokeswoman said it had no comment because the matter was in the hands of BDO.

Walker claims he wrote to BDO asking for an update of the receivership only to be told the properties were not on the market and that BNZ was handling it.

Walker said the response was "highly improper" and he would contact BNZ to find out "what is going on".

"Those properties should be put on the market and sold to the highest bidder," he said.

He said insurance issues could be solved independently of a sale.

Walker said he was considering "taking the whole thing to court".

"I'm getting impatient and I've been given no explanation . . . so we will carry on our inquiries, but if we don't get an answer I will ask a judge."

Bremner had planned to construct new buildings and laneways.

The Square could reopen within six to eight months "if I could just get in there", he said.

"I'm still really keen to buy it . . . but trying to stack together so many variables is just too difficult."

He had unsuccessfully tried negotiating with lenders to buy their loans.

The BNZ received a $4.85m payment this year as a result of an insurance settlement on Tuam Venture's assets.

One of its major creditors - the former South Canterbury Finance, which was taken over by the Crown last year - is still owed more than $3m.

Christchurch Central Development Unit director Warwick Isaacs said he was aware of the ongoing discussions between receivers and insurers about SOL Square.

He said the Crown was not involved in those discussions as the area was not designated for an anchor project.

"We are obviously keen to see regeneration of that area as an entertainment destination," he said.

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Henderson said he would not comment on SOL Square because he felt The Press had not given him a fair hearing in the past.

- The Press

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