Heritage mill to become 'wee jewel'

Merging the old and the new

Last updated 08:22 15/09/2012

BRIGHT FUTURE: Shaun Johnston left and Richmond Paynter at their historic Woods Mill building on Wise Street which survived the Christchurch earthquakes.

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It's more than 100 years old but an exciting future looms. Sally Blundell looks at plans for the Woods Mill building in Addington.

It is a place of pigeons and sparrows. Even before the earthquakes, the historic Wood Brothers Mill complex in Addington faced the world through broken windows, tagged walls and sodden armchairs slumping amongst the weeds.

'For it to be economic you have to look at what heritage buildings offer in terms of patina and ambience," says property developer Richmond Paynter.

"This is a proven concept around the world as industry moves into derelict areas. Look at the loft developments in New York or the waterfront developments in San Francisco and Sydney. People are drawn to places like that. They are fabulous assets we all like to enjoy.'

Paynter stands on the old brick courtyard in front of the former Wise St flourmill. In the late 1800s, when Sussex miller William Wood established the steam- powered mill close to the railway line, this paved forecourt was a bowling green for mill staff.

Since the complex was sold in 1970, the mill and grain store, designed by prominent Christchurch architects Joseph Maddison and the Luttrell Brothers, have been used as a bakery, artist studios, apartments and home and theatre for the Riccarton Players.

Despite damage to an end gable and the loss of a brick chimney and an adjacent grain silo, the buildings are remarkably whole.

The arched brick window openings with their distinctive stone arches, a Victorian effect known as 'blood and bandages' or 'striped voussoir' are intact.

The quadruple brick walls still stand strong, the massive columns of Australian ironwood and 12-inch square Oregon beams inside appear rock solid.

'As unreinforced masonry buildings, they were at risk [the mill was initially red-stickered until make-safe work on a parapet was completed] but the various bits were all tied together well. In the granary there were sacks of grain right up to the roof and in the mill you had huge grinding machines - the buildings would have had to withstand lots of vibration.'

For Paynter and businessman Shaun Johnston these are the vital bones for a planned development that will convert the New Zealand Historic Places Trust category 2 mill into a four- storey 55-bedroom boutique hotel surrounded by bars, restaurants, courtyards and live entertainment venues.

A $750,000 grant from the Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Fund will assist with strengthening and a Heritage Incentive Grant of up to $884,750 has been approved by the city council.

To bring the mill up to 100 per cent of building code, walls will be better secured; diaphragm strengthening will be undertaken on each of the four levels; and parapets will be tied back.

The remaining brick silo will be deconstructed, forming a space for a ground-floor kitchen area within a clear ruin - permanent evidence, says Paynter, of what the city has been through.

A new timber building will be built in a sympathetic but contemporary style. 'Merging the old and the new. There's no point in mimicking the old - that's plagiarism.'

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Paynter has done the numbers. Christchurch has lost a third of its hotel rooms, restaurants have lost their buildings and live entertainment venues are few.

And in Addington, he says, the clientele are already there.

'This plan would not have worked before February, but now so many people who lost their business premises are working out here.

"There are an estimated 50,000 square metres of new offices in the area. About 10,000 people live and work within a 1km radius of Woods Mill. A lot of these are professional people and many have taken long-term leases. Some 50,000 people used to drive into the city every day. Now people have made the decision to move here. The city will be rebuilt but you won't see 50,000 people driving there every day.

'This will be a wee jewel. We're not aiming to replicate anything - we're not going to create a new SOL square. It will be more gentle and it will help support commercial activity in the area.'

He points to the new Court Theatre in a converted grain storage silo next door, the new Dux Live bar and hugely successful Addington Coffee Co-op down the road, and the burgeoning office parks nearby.

'Where people work they want to play. And where people work they also want accommodation.'

Paynter, whose previous projects include the redevelopment of Christchurch's old library chambers and the Clarendon Hotel, expects the $20 million Woods Mill complex to be finished by next June, in time to provide a viable alternative to business owners faced with expiring insurance payouts.

'The simple thing for us would have been to demolish, but we have taken a different approach. We see heritage as a drawcard - it has a patina and we have a building already here - so we can get back to market relatively quickly. And as human beings, we like quiet corners. It's our history, it's part of our being.'

- The Press


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