Call for action on mall impasse

CONFUSED PROCESS: An artist’s view of the $200 million One Commerce Square proposal from Ocean Partners and the Apollo Group.
CONFUSED PROCESS: An artist’s view of the $200 million One Commerce Square proposal from Ocean Partners and the Apollo Group.

Pressure is mounting for Government intervention to resolve a dispute that is delaying the redevelopment of Christchurch's City Mall.

Developers battling for control of the prime riverfront land say that without such action to help resolve the stalemate and with no start in sight for what could be a two-year build, crucial time is being lost and tenants are going elsewhere.

The redevelopment has been hailed by Government as a flagship for the rebuild, with Prime Minister John Key referring to the project in his speech at the memorial service for the February 2011 quake on Friday.

At least four groups have drawn up plans for the block between Cashel and Lichfield streets, the River Avon and Ballantynes, but none can proceed without wresting control of about 18 sites from small landholders.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press he was eager to see if there were commercial solutions before intervening.

"I have to be careful not to make a decision on a design basis. But we are looking at the developers' ability to deliver, and I've got officials talking with all the parties.

"Once that is understood, we will have the ability to be a little more hands on."

Development proposals for the core retail zone must cover a minimum 7500 square metres, requiring master-planned designs and co-operation among landholders. All the plans to date include offices and shops around public squares or lane networks.

Brownlee said given that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment was needed, it was reasonable to take "a little bit of time".

Cashel St landowner Paddy Cotter said there had been no progress since the plans were announced late last year, and he believed the minimum development size was too big.

"The process is flawed, and that is why it has stalled. It's different if you've got a dominant owner, but when you've got a lot of sites and a lot of small owners, people are hedging their bets."

Contender Tim Howe has several sites under offer, but said too many options with the possibility of more, was confusing owners.

"The CCDU [Christchurch Central Development Unit] needs to step up and show leadership to make it happen - they need to manage a sale process for the land.

"We are putting significant amounts of money in the ground. It needs to be able to advance . . . we're in a really difficult position."

Howe, who heads up a $200 million One Commerce Square proposal from Ocean Partners and the Apollo Group, said tenants were going elsewhere. Owners doing nothing was "not an option", and he called for a facilitated bidding process but not compulsory acquisitions.

Also proposed for the block is the $350m Goodman-Westpac design, but the group has delayed design work while they investigate how to get control of the site.

Goodman general manager of development Peter Dafaur said despite "an expectation that the CCDU would throw its support behind the plan it thought was best, and give some assistance . . . that hasn't happened".

"We are not wanting to storm into Christchurch with a development they don't want."

Dafaur said the successful developer needed "the assistance of the CCDU, but as yet no-one's really sure what form that assistance might take.

"It's critical to get something going as soon as possible".

Also with plans for the block are Leighs Construction and the Buchan Group, and leasing agent Brendan Chase.

Leighs spokesman and and mall landowner Rob Logie said their owner-driven project was still on the table. But owners feared some plans were over-ambitious and were "reluctant to commit if they think a project may not be able to be completed", he said.

Brownlee said having competition to invest in Christchurch was good, given that there had been scepticism about demand.

In other parts of the retail core, design work is continuing on sites with one or two dominant owners, including those owned by investors Nick Hunt, Michael Ogilvie-Lee, the Gough brothers, and the Carter group.

The Press