Revamp of heritage building a trailblazer

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 10:22 21/06/2014
david Weir
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: David Weir of Miyamoto International in front of the Great Expectations building in Ghuznee St.

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The heritage-listed Cadbury's Great Expectations building is about to be turned into a showcase for how run-down quake-prone buildings can be turned around.

David Weir, a director of Miyamoto International, said he and his partners in the consultancy bought it to show how it was possible to take a distressed property and convert it into a valuable asset.

This 1908-vintage building, which is now all-but empty, was one of many similar buildings in the area.

The old federation romanesque- style building was of a style and in a location, just across the road from Glover Park and just around the corner from Cuba Mall, which made it an attractive proposition.

He hoped to get it back to a state where it was strengthened, fully-occupied and doing it without having to totally destroy its interesting features.

"It's an opportunity to showcase to our clients what we can do," said Weir, who formed Ghuznee St Investments with fellow Miyamoto directors to buy the property.

Like many other old buildings it had lost a lot of value in the past couple of years after the property market was hit by the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes.

In a deal brokered by Paul Hastings agent Malcolm Fleming the property was bought for $665,000, well shy of its 2010 rating value of $1.58 million.

Weir said they looked at various options before deciding to keep it as an office building with ground floor retail.

They would use it to put into practice what Miyamoto had been talking about in presentations all around the country - "turning seismic requirements into opportunities".

While Wellington City Council's "desktop" initial assessment of the building was only 6 per cent of new building standard, Weir believed it was a lot stronger than that.

Unlike a lot of more modern buildings around the city, it suffered absolutely no damage in last year's earthquakes.

It was built using concrete- encased steel beams and columns riveted together supporting reinforced concrete floors.

Weir said the approach was to identify critical structural issues and strengthen it with as little impact on the building as possible.

They plan to put in modern energy absorbing steel cross bracing inside the front and back walls, tie back the masonry facade and strengthen the parapet at the front.

Unfortunately some of the bracing would be visible through the windows, which triggered resource consent issues.

That was a frustration but another element where the company wanted to demonstrate how it was possible to get through the whole funding, consenting, design and construction process.

Ironically, strengthening the building was probably going to be one of the easiest components of the whole project, said Weir.

Other complexities revolved around whether the building had to meet the latest fire code and disabled access requirements.

"This is a problem the whole country is going to come up against where we've created this seismic upgrade requirement, but we haven't defined the process.

"Do we want people to spent hundreds of thousands to upgrade their buildings seismically when it suddenly triggers these other components which then makes it unaffordable?"

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The fire code was a major issue, Weir said.

The building had just one staircase and there was lots of old character glazing but if the latest fire code had to be complied with that glass would all have to come out and be replaced by gib.

It was a matter of getting the right balance of lifting seismic ratings without making it unaffordable and too difficult for old building owners.

"A lot of our clients have invested in buildings to get a passive income in their retirement and Christchurch came along and flipped it on its head.

"They don't know how to go down the path of strengthening their building," said Weir.

- The Dominion Post

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