Vote of faith in central city area

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2012
Grenadier Harcourts' new building
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ
GOING UP: Grenadier Harcourts' Robert McCormack at the site on Madras St in Christchurch, where the company's new office is being built.

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Robert McCormack is placing a $5.3-million bet on people returning to central Christchurch, with a new four-storey office block in the city's heart.

McCormack, the chief executive of Grenadier Harcourts real estate, was joined by his old school mate, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, and engineers and quake-recovery officials yesterday to watch the first 11-metre pile being drilled into a vacant section in Madras St.

The building will be built around a steel frame, with a glass frontage, and exceed the tough post-quake building code.

The site once housed two buildings owned by McCormack's company, Grenadier Properties, including the old Harcourts building, but both were demolished after the quakes.

It was the first multi-storey building to receive approval in the red zone, McCormack said, and was expected to be completed by Christmas.

McCormack said he owed it to the city to return, but admitted it was a commercial risk to rebuild amid the ruins.

"I think it's a risk worth taking, but there is a risk no-one else will build around us, that no-one else will want to take this space," he said.

Harcourts Grenadier staff will fill two-thirds of the building, but McCormack is seeking tenants for the first floor and ground-floor cafe.

The building is still awaiting final building consent, although consent for foundation work has been granted, and there is no guarantee of insurance.

"We've have had some troubles with insurance," McCormack said.

Concerns have been raised about a "flight of capital" from the central business district, with property owners buying elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas.

Property investor Sir Bob Jones argued last year that it was not financially possible to rebuild in the city centre.

However, several Christchurch property owners have started building, and many others are awaiting approval.

Work has started on the $25 million Latimer Hotel, and a two-storey building on the old Westende Jewellers site on the corner of Worcester and Manchester streets should be completed by mid-July.

Westende site developer Shaun Stockman, of KPI Rothschild, said tougher building codes had increased the building cost by $184,000.

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Cantabrians are being urged to submit their opinions on the rebuild of central Christchurch.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority hopes that property and business owners, tenants and customers will give their views on the rebuild through www.centralcitystudy.org.nz.

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Cera acting chief executive Warwick Isaacs said there had been a good response so far, but it would like to hear from more people.

The central-city commercial property study would help authorities understand how Cantabrians wanted to see the central city rebuilt, he said. The survey will be online until mid-February.

- The Press

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