SOL Square may reopen by mid-year

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 10/01/2013

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Plans for a "bigger and better" SOL Square could be realised in six months but are on hold until the developers can buy the land.

The square, between Lichfield, Manchester and Tuam streets, remains largely untouched after the earthquakes and is in the area set aside for late-night, high-noise activity in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan.

Max Bremner, who owns the leases on six of the bars, and Richard Peebles are joining forces in a bid to redevelop the square - a project they expect would take only six to eight months.

The land was owned by Christchurch developer David Henderson until his company, Tuam Ventures, was placed in receivership by the BNZ in 2009.

Bremner, chief executive of Oxford Management Services, which owns and operates La Petite Croix, the Yellow Cross, Vinum, the Fish & Chip Shop, Cleaners Only and Fat Eddie's, said the pair had been trying to negotiate a sale with the BNZ and receiver BDO New Zealand for more than a year.

"We just want to purchase the land, get the insurance money and then make a start. It's been a really frustrating process because the square could be such a vibrant part of the city," he said.

"We're well-funded, respected people and I just don't think trying to redevelop our central city should be this hard."

Bremner said that if a sale went through, the square could reopen this year.

"It's just sitting there and it could be such a great attraction," he said.

"There are opportunities to retain the buildings. It depends on the insurance, but the Yellow Cross has the most damage."

Detailed engineering evaluations had been carried out, he said.

Bremner said working with the BNZ and the receiver had been a "very involved and slow process", and the bank had "never expressed an interest" in repairing the square itself.

"They have been actively trying to sell it for a while now and if we're spending the money to redevelop it, we would prefer to have the freehold too," he said.

Bremner and Peebles last year developed a plan for the land next to the square but the project "ended before it got started" because the site was earmarked for the city's new bus depot.

A BNZ spokeswoman confirmed Tuam Ventures was in receivership and liquidation.

"The receiver, BDO Christchurch, is continuing to manage insurance claims with regard to Tuam Ventures' associated properties," she said.

"Such claims are complex and subject to due process, which is ongoing."

Receiver Stephen Tubbs, of BDO Christchurch, was unavailable for comment this week.

Peebles, who lost 24 mainly central-city buildings in the Canterbury earthquakes, said there was "nothing much to say on the matter".

"We've been trying really hard. It's a joint venture and we're not getting anywhere," he said.

The Press understands Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has been approached on the issue, but he was not available for comment yesterday.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority deputy general manager Baden Ewart said SOL Square could not reopen before demolition of the former civic offices in Tuam St was completed.

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Buildings south of Tuam St, in the southern frame area, would also need to be pulled down.

The northern side of SOL Square was "pretty much clear", Ewart said.

"I expect the building owners would like to get it open as soon as possible," he said.

SOL Square was one of the main night-time hot spots in the city before the earthquakes, along with Poplar St, off High St, and the Oxford Tce Strip.

Most Poplar St buildings have been demolished and the area is earmarked for the innovation precinct set out in the central-city blueprint. Bars on The Strip have also been demolished.

TIMELINE

1998 - Ian Athfield, commissioned by the Christchurch City Council, produces a plan for the development of lanes in the area between Lichfield, Tuam, St Asaph and High streets.

2000 - David Henderson begins acquiring and developing properties in the area that becomes SOL (South of Lichfield) Square.

March 2006 - His Lordship's Cafe and Bar opens.

August 2009 - PricewaterhouseCoopers appoints receiver of three companies owning six bars - the Yellow Cross, Fat Eddie's, Cleaners Only, the Fish & Chip Shop, Vinum and La Petite Croix - at the request of DB Breweries. The bars continue to trade as normal.

September 2009 - SOL Square bars caught selling alcohol to under-age drinkers. Cartel, Yellow Cross, His Lordship's, Fat Eddie's, The Fish & Chip Shop and Ishimoto are forced to close for 24 hours and suspend their general managers for 30 days.

December 2009 - Six SOL Square bars sold by receivers of Henderson to Max Bremner and Tane Norton.

March 2010 - Henderson's cornerstone company, Property Ventures, is put into receivership.

July 2010 - BNZ puts 179 Tuam St (SOL Square) up for mortgagee sale.

February 2011 - Earthquake puts SOL Square inside the central-city cordon.

January 2013 - Bremner and Richard Peebles release their plans for the redevelopment of SOL Square.

- The Press

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