Alive, and kicking away doubt

MARTA STEEMAN
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014

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Richard Diver likes to think of Victoria St as the de facto CBD.

In the regeneration of the street on the edge of Christchurch's old central business district, Diver's making a big impression.

He has nine building projects - including four completed - in that street, and land and property developments nearby in mind.

This is the biggest property development portfolio he has taken on in 30-odd years doing this.

"My mission was to make Victoria St the new CBD and I think we are close to achieving it. We've got more leases, more buildings, more tenants moving into this street than any other area in the city - in the four avenues anyway."

Victoria St and the Hagley Park end of Lincoln Rd, Addington, are two of the areas where developers have forged ahead with commercial office developments, typically three to six stories.

Around and in between them entrepreneurial restaurateurs, bar owners and retailers have brought vibrancy and buzz.

Two years ago you would have been forgiven for thinking Victoria St was stuffed. The retailers in the high-end area who had picked up the pieces after February 22's earthquake were struggling to make a living.

The economic recovery plans for Christchurch talked about the revival of New Regent Street and the development of the new retail precinct around City Mall, but Victoria St didn't figure prominently.

"I think the nice thing is we are going to be a complete street within probably 18 months to two years, whereas [for] the old CBD there isn't a time limit on when that is going to be complete," Diver says.

"I wonder where the tenants are going to come from for that anyway. Again I wonder whether the retail district is actually going to work."

He has completed 179, 145, 131 and 83 Victoria St and says all made him money. But he has only sold one of them to an investor - 145 Victoria St where Belle Interiors is located.

"There's going to be 4000-odd people, give or take, working down Victoria St. They are all going to want to live somewhere. Some people will want to live close to work," Diver, who has apartment development in mind, says.

And there are lots of investors in the market.

Diver says he wouldn't want to be a novice developer in the reconstruction of Christchurch.

"I think a lot of investors who've had a building fall over have thought well that's fine I will just go and build a new one.

"A lot of them are coming unstuck and a lot of them are getting to the end of the project and realising that they've lost money or made nothing and consumed a year or two of their life with heartache and hassle."

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The building process had become very difficult. He and his development partner had done it for 33 years and even they were finding it "hideous" with all the new building rules.

"It's not impossible . . . but you've got to get out the other side and make a quid."

What's the riskiest thing you've done during the rebuild?

"Talk to The Press."

Diver says the city needs developers to stimulate activity. A lot of people have picked up big insurance cheques but "are sitting on their arses doing nothing".

Diver's first post-quake building completed was Carlton Butchery, near the corner of Bealey Ave and Victoria St, across from the gutted Knox Church - an iconic image of the earthquake's destruction.

He started it not long after September 4's seismic shake-up and built without insurance. It was simply not available so soon after the quake. Luckily when the February quake hit he had only just got the piles in the ground and foundations down so there was no structure above ground.

"It might have been a different scenario if I had," Diver quips.

"Everything was fine and then insurance started coming out so we were good."

He tends to downplay the risks he took then, but property development is a risk-taker's game.

Sharing that is his equity and construction partner, Mike Sullivan, an Auckland developer and builder, who co-owns Countrywide Property with Diver.

"He's a really good rooster. We teamed up a couple of years ago."

Sullivan's company Clearwater Construction takes care of all the building. Diver and Sullivan were introduced by a good friend, Christchurch steel manufacturer Frank van Schaijik of John Jones Steel.

Diver has built a 400-square metre, two-storey apartment for himself and his family in the Carlton Butchery.

"The objective was I wanted to build my retirement home, not that I can afford to retire."

It has a swimming pool and a lift straight into the main bedroom.

"I kind of figured if I was able to grow old enough not to be totally mobile then I can take the lift straight up into my apartment and or bedroom and go to bed. It wasn't about crashing into bed because I was pissed or paralytic. It was about looking at my inability to walk because of my age, not because of my consumption levels."

He is thinking well head. Diver is 48.

His office is on the first floor so it's not far to work - "because I don't sleep much so I can get up in the middle of the night and come to work."

He's been developing property projects since leaving school aged 15 to take up a carpenter's apprenticeship.

"I enjoy doing them - I've been doing them for years. I love doing them. I start work every morning at six o'clock for no other reason than I just can't wait to get to work."

Diver said the typical developers' mentality is that they are going to build it quicker and cheaper and make more than what the market is telling them the rental is worth.

That's why many go broke.

So what does 2014 hold?

"I know I have enough to see us right through the year and some with the current projects we have on. I wouldn't want to commit to doing more office buildings than what I've currently got under way."

There is the potential for oversupply of office buildings within the four avenues in his view.

And he and partner may be interested in more residential building in the future.

"We have such an opportunity for developing a cool city. We've just got to get out of the negativity and we've just got to move on. Everyone's got to make decisions and stop holding back and stop keeping insurance money tucked under their blankets."

And the city council need to be more helpful at getting projects moving, he says.

"It takes us months to get a building consent."

DIVER PROJECTS

Completed, Carlton Butchery. Restaurant Saggio di Vino on the ground floor.

Completed recently, 83 Victoria St. Tenants include national law firms Buddle Findlay and Greenwood Roche and Chisnall.

Completed, 145 Victoria Street – restoration of a building due for demolition. Tenants include up-market furniture store Belle Interiors and swanky restaurant King of Snake.

Completed, 131 Victoria St – another restoration to 100 per cent of the building code and now home to restaurant Mexicano, lawyers Saunders & Co, and Map Architecture, the architects for Diver's building projects.

ONGOING

133 Victoria St, the former site of the Department of Conservation which he bought about eight years ago, sold to property developer Ben Gough and then bought the land back. Planned is a new retail office and carpark building.

123 Victoria St, $45m building, their biggest yet and seeking tenants. Piles in ground.

105 Victoria St, still working on the concept. The former old Ben Rumble and Telecom site, one back from Salisbury St.

99 Victoria St, next door to 105. They will probably combine for one project but in the meantime it is rented out as a carpark.

50 Victoria St, four-storey building on the corner of Victoria and Peterborough streets, being built now.

Old ECan site on Kilmore St. Countrywide considering an 150-apartment complex and 300-car parking building. 


- BusinessDay

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