Harcourts developer offers $10m church deal

Mark Dunajtschik, pictured in 2011 near the Harcourts building on Lambton Quay.
Mark Dunajtschik, pictured in 2011 near the Harcourts building on Lambton Quay.

Developer Mark Dunajtschik has offered to give $10 million towards the restoration of Wellington's St Gerard's Monastery and St Mary of the Angels Church if he gets consent to demolish the Harcourts building.

His offer was outlined yesterday before the Environment Court, which is hearing his application to demolish the heritage-listed quake-risk eight-storey Lambton Quay block, which he wants to replace with a modern highrise.

He said he had made verbal commitments to contribute $5m each to Gordon Copeland and Father Barry Scannell, who were looking to raise large sums for the two restoration projects, if he was allowed to replace the Harcourts building. "I'm prepared to make that publicly now in the court, and write out the cheque now."

Dunajtschik said Scannell had said his whole congregation would pray for him.

Environment Court judge Jeff Smith said there were precedents for such offers to be picked up, but they had to be voluntary and could not be imposed by the court.

Earlier in the case - the fourth major hearing on the application to demolish the Harcourts building - the judge challenged valuation figures advanced to support the claim that strengthening the building was not viable.

He said valuations and financial assessments were contradictory, confusing, and boiled down to what Dunajtschik thought was acceptable.

The judge also questioned whether the building was really separate from the adjoining 25-storey HSBC office tower, also owned by Dunajtschik, and which he wants to extend on to the Harcourts site.

There was agreement to retain the Harcourts building when consent was issued to build the HSBC tower, the HSBC lift tower was built inside what was the Harcourt building, and the judge asked whether it was part of the same property.

Dunajtschik's lawyer, Con Anastasiou, insisted that, while the two buildings were both owned by Dunajtschik, and while part of the HSBC encroached on to the Harcourts site, they were "chalk and cheese" and were run separately.

The judge said he was confused, and "there is a lot of sophistry going on". He also questioned how the building was liable to fail in an earthquake, what risks it posed to public safety relative to other buildings, including the HSBC, which could shed glass on the street.

The case also raised questions of how public safety might be balanced against heritage and economic values.

He noted Dunajtschik was faced with a legal impossibility. Wellington City Council had issued notice that the building had to be strengthened or demolished by 2027 but, when Dunajtschik applied to demolish the building, he was not permitted to do so.

Anastasiou said Dunajtschik was not focused on money and getting a return at all costs. In 2002, $4.5m was spent on the building to attract new tenants and then everything changed after the Christchurch quakes.

It was now largely vacant, but Dunajtschik was ready, willing and able to retain it if he could secure a tenant. He had negotiated for months to secure a deal with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. "He is trying to find a use for a building that is currently a cadaver," Anastasiou said.

The Dominion Post