Rescue group wants to buy Christchurch's McLean's Mansion for $1

McLean's Mansion in its damaged state.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

McLean's Mansion in its damaged state.

The trust formed to rescue McLean's Mansion in central Christchurch wants to buy it for $1.

The earthquake-damaged historic homestead has been for sale for $2.5 million in as-is condition since its owners, the Murray family, decided they could not fix it.  

Last year, the Environment Court ruled the ornate 117-year old building could not be demolished, three years after the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) deemed it dangerous and issued a demolition notice. 

A photo taken inside McLean's Mansion in 2015.
URBEXCENTRAL

A photo taken inside McLean's Mansion in 2015.

The McLean's Mansion charitable trust was formed to buy and repair the building, something it believes could cost $10m. It would then reopen it as a tourist attraction, performance venue, cafe, and gallery showing art from Sir James Wallace's large private collection.

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Trustee Humphry Rolleston, a well-known Christchurch businessman and company director, said they were in talks with both the city council and the Murrays about purchasing the building.

McLean's Mansion before the earthquakes.
DAVID ALEXANDER/STUFF

McLean's Mansion before the earthquakes.

Due to its damaged state and protected status, the property was worth nothing as it was, Rolleston said.

He hoped council might be able to help with a land swap offer, or similar. The option was for a philanthropist to buy it "but fairy godmothers like that are hard to find".

"Money to do it up would be easier to find, it just has to be bought first. I'd love to see it gifted to the city for $1," Rolleston said.

Sir James Wallace with some of his art collection in the Pah homestead in Auckland, which is the model for the McLean's ...
PETER MEECHAM/STUFF

Sir James Wallace with some of his art collection in the Pah homestead in Auckland, which is the model for the McLean's Mansion plan.

He described McLean's Mansion as a "precious, important and eccentric building".

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With 53 rooms, the Manchester St building is one of the world's largest wooden houses. It has a category one listing with Heritage New Zealand and, in December, the Christchurch City Council approved a $1.9m grant to repair and strengthen it.

When the council grant was approved last year the trust hoped it was close to being able to buy the building with a private interest-free loan. But the trust disagreed with then chairman Trevor Lord who wanted to take the loan, and Lord stepped down from the trust.

"We are all on the same page except that the trust won't allow any debt on the property," Rolleston said. "We are exploring our options with the council and the vendors." 

Rolleston believed restoring the building as an attraction would revitalise the whole area. He likened it to the Mona Vale homestead and gardens, which the Christchurch City and Riccarton Borough councils bought for the public in the 1960s.

"All of us see the mansion as a wonderful asset to protect and a wonderful asset to regenerate activity between the four avenues.

"Get the building and grounds nice and the market will come to you."

The Murrays have received an insurance payout on the building and recently sold off some of the land around it. They have owned the property for 30 years and used it as premises for their educational institute, The Academy.

Council head of facilities, property and planning Bruce Rendall confirmed the trust had approached them for further assistance.

"Given the competing demands for council investment in meeting diverse community  needs, it is considering this request carefully and has not yet made any decisions," Rendall said.

Colliers commercial real estate agent Noel Gilchrist, who is marketing the mansion for the Murray family, said it was a complex property to sell.

"It's the cost of the upgrade – it's not an easy job and a buyer would have to find an economic use for it."

 - Stuff

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