Wellington's Museum Hotel sold, but not the art

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Wellington's Museum Hotel owner Chris Parkin with some of his art works on show in the lobby of the Museum Hotel.

Chris Parkin outside the Museum Hotel in 2013.

Museum Hotel was moved on rails from the Te Papa site to its current site.

Te Museum Hotel was moved from the Te Papa site to its current site.

Museum Hotel when it was moved back from waterfront on railway wagon wheels.

Hippopotamus restaurant inside the Museum Hotel.

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He saved it from demolition, now Chris Parkin is finally saying goodbye to Wellington's Museum Art Hotel.

The hotel owner, former councillor and art collector has confirmed the sale of the hotel in Cable St to Sydney-based Amalgamated Holdings for $28.5 million. The company, which owns a range of cinema and hotel brands including Rydges, will eventually rename the hotel under its upmarket QT brand.

It would become New Zelaand's first hotel to operate under the brand, which has five hotels in Australia.

Chris Parkin has sold the Museum Art Hotel in Wellington.
Craig Simcox

Chris Parkin has sold the Museum Art Hotel in Wellington.

Parkin famously saved the Museum Art Hotel from demolition in 1993 by moving it across the road on rails to make way for Te Papa, and was named Wellingtonian of the Year for his efforts. 

Since then, he has expanded into adjacent buildings and crammed it full of his extensive art collection.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: All eyes on shifting a hotel

Parkin said on Wednesday that the art was not included in the sale but, as part of the deal, would remain onsite for at least three years.

"I don't want it to lose its unique Wellington identity," he said. 

"If it doesn't stay after that, then I could potentially set up my own gallery."

The sale covers both the restaurant Hippopotamus, the main hotel and apartment block, including the leases for apartments owned by other investors.

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Parkin himself is part of the deal, having sold his personal apartment to the hotel but agreeing to stay living at the site as the art curator and hotel ambassador.

"I'm going to enjoy my apartment, instead on spending my time working on it."

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said it was great news that Parkin would remain as an ambassador for the hotel.

He praised him as a leading light of the Wellington tourism industry, and said the hotel and Hippopotamus were unique products that helped promote Wellington as a destination.

"I am sure when Chris made the decision to sell, he would have done his homework and made sure the reputation of his hotel and restaurant would remain intact, whoever he sold it to."

Parkin said the company had approached him and the QT brand was a good fit with the hotel's unique character.

Amalgamated's flagship business is Event Cinemas. It also owns Thredbo ski resort in New South Wales, CineStar Cinemas in Germany, and a string of hotel titles, including Rydges, QT and Atura.

"It was an offer to buy we had to take seriously," Parkin said. "I will be 67 this year and there is a more I want to do with my life. Here is the opportunity to do it."

He planned to focus more on tech company investments, new property development ventures and "see what I can still contribute to Wellington".

He has also bought the Aylstone Retreat lodge in Martinborough, for "south of $2m", in November and plans eventually to retire there. "I even bought a Range Rover," he said.

Amalgamated Holdings has confirmed it has acquired the 163-room hotel. Group managing director David Seargeant said he admired what Parkin had created at the Museum Hotel and was "excited that Chris has agreed to continue his association with the hotel as an ambassador". 

The sale is expected to be finalised in early August.

A WEALTH OF ART

Parkin has collected more than 100 artworks over the years, all of which are on display at the Museum Hotel. They include:

  • A painting by his daughter Meredith
  • A portrait of Prime Minister John Key comprised of thousands of coloured pieces of toast
  • A shiny, limited edition MV Agusta bike, which is parked in the foyer, to remind everyone that art can be found in forms other than paintings or sculpture
  • A $35,000 surrealist artwork by Brent Wong
  • Two poignant oil paintings of the late Rob Jones,  also known as the Bucket Man
  • The Attack of the 60ft Vermeer-Inspired Women by Simon Mee
  • Flight of Fan, a bejewelled stuffed duck, by Dunedin artist Angela Singer
  • Large Takahe with Sparrow by Queensland artist Geoff Dixon, which features a takahe among the rocket ships, fried eggs and flying saucers
  • I Dream of Fishes, by Grant Hanna, in where the Mona Lisa sits with her head in a paper bag, wearing washing up gloves and a Maori cloak
  • A number of paintings by contemporary New Zealand artists, including Raymond Ching, Gretchen Albrecht,  and Michael Smither

HOTEL ON THE MOVE

  • In 1993, Parkin saved the Museum Hotel from the wrecking ball. It had been destined for demolition to make way for Te Papa, but he had it moved across Cable St on railway tracks, making it the largest building in New Zealand to be relocated.
  • It happened over two weekends in August 1993.
  • The hotel was moved 80 metres east and 40m south to its current location in Cable St in a $2.4 million engineering project. It took three months of preparation for a three-day move, in two stages.
  • First move (August 14-15, 1993): The hotel was hoisted up and laid on a metal grid. It was moved on rails, coming to rest across Barnett St,  where three kilometres of rail line on eight tracks, and 96 "bogie" rail trolleys pushed by eight hydraulic rams, were set up for the change of direction.
  • Second move (August 21): The hotel was moved across the road to its current location. It reached its destination in perfect condition, and less than one centimetre out of line.

 - Stuff

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