Firms return to their CBD bases

02:45, Jun 19 2011
Polson Higgs partner Michael Rondel said the accountancy group would be one of the last tenants to return to the HSBC Tower, as they waited for the refit following earlier quake damage.
Polson Higgs partner Michael Rondel said the accountancy group would be one of the last tenants to return to the HSBC Tower, as they waited for the refit following earlier quake damage.

High rise building tenants that have crept back into the damaged central business district following the September and February earthquakes have not been dissuaded by Monday's worrying aftershocks.

Coincidentally KPMG moved back into the third floor of the HSBC Tower on Monday from a Presbyterian church location base over the last few months. Staff were given a celebratory morning tea then an updated "safety evacuation plan" - before the two shock quakes that hit in the afternoon.

While the 50 or so staff of the accountancy firm evacuated after the initial 5.6 aftershock, partner Alex Skinner said that staff had been moving back into the building from Wednesday with human resources support.

Other businesses that left the HSBC building because of the February 22 quake included investment bank JBWere - due back in on Monday - and accountancy firm Polson Higgs - due to move back in the next couple of weeks.

The HSBC firms and Canterbury business leaders are generally of the view that being part of the CBD repatriation process was an important step in the process of getting the city back to some sort of normality.

Canterbury Development Corp acting chief executive Gerard Quinn said CDC was also looking to move into the CBD from Addington, though it was a highly competitive process trying to find space.

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CDC was also keen to see other firms return to the CBD as part of the "anchor development" process to lead others back into the city.

"As the economic development agency we just see our place at the heart of the city both physically and in terms of its economy. We'll move there as soon as possible. We are looking at the options."

KPMG's Skinner said he was downstairs in the HSBC Tower cafe with the firm's new partner Andrew Hawkes when the 5.6 aftershock hit. As a warden, he had to return upstairs and lead the staff out.

He felt that the tower had performed well in the shakes, backed by further structural engineer checks.

"I think we've got to the stage where it's just part of normal life, and as I said on Monday morning we can't be naive, we've got to expect another big shake and might have to evacuate. That's the reality of being in Christchurch," Skinner said.

Staff had been generally level-headed after the first shake on Monday.

"I think the city needs professional and services firms to come back into town - I know others are slowly trying to do so, though obviously it is limited as to what CBD is available," he said.

JBWere's Christchurch executive director Barry McLauchlan said staff on level six of HSBC Tower had also evacuated after the first aftershock on Monday. There was some cracking and fallen roof tiles but he felt the building had done well.

"I think the thing that has made everyone a lot more comfortable is that they've been to the engineer briefings about the building and how it should react . . . everyone was very relaxed on Monday," McLauchlan said.

Polson Higgs partner Michael Rondel said the accountancy group with 43 staff would be one of the last tenants to re-enter HSBC Tower, but that was because of the fitout of the seventh and eighth floors following earlier quake damage. The area was slowly regenerating. "I'm actually quite looking forward to it. It's the concept of seeing whatever is going to be rebuilt and the re- growth of the city and being right on the ground floor if you like as it goes on around us."

The Press