Plans by the Auckland Council controlled Panuku to sell a historic Auckland building to a developer has led to calls for more transparency from councillors

Plans by the Auckland Council controlled Panuku to sell a historic Auckland building to a developer has led to calls for more transparency from councillors

Plans to redevelop Auckland’s Civic Administration Building into a multi-million dollar apartment complex could be delayed as questions are being asked over how much Panuku Development Auckland is selling it for.

Auckland councillor Mike Lee is calling for the Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) Panuku to suspend any sale or transfer of ownership of the historic property until the council has been provided with a full report of the commercial details of the proposed transaction, including the price. And he also wants more information on how the outstanding heritage concerns relating to the Category A listed building have been resolved.

Civic Lane Ltd is planning to buy the building. Its part owner and director, property developer John Love, plans to turn the Grey’s Ave building, which borders Mayoral Drive and Aotea Square, into apartments with food and beverage outlets on the lower levels as a key part of a wider $200 million to $300 million development. The wider development is expected to include new commercial office and retail space, as well as a hotel built on Mayoral Drive itself. 

But Lee says he wants to see the sale suspended until some key questions are answered and he’s seeking the support of fellow councillors to make sure it happens.

“I want some transparency around this deal. It’s owned by the public and they have a right to know what the deal is,” Lee says. “People wouldn’t believe how much they are asking for it, just because they want to get rid of it. An 18 floor building in the heart of the Auckland CBD and they are virtually giving it away.”

He says the property has been sitting vacant for the last five years since Auckland Council administration staff moved over the road to the ASB Building on the corner of Wellesley and Albert streets.

A council report from 2015 stated that the property was unsuitable for long term use without significant refurbishment, including removing asbestos from the building. The council voted to seek interest from the private sector to refurbish the Civic Administration Building while maintaining its heritage value, as far as practicable. The council also said it would consider the sale of the Civic Administration Building and surrounding land to a selected development party on a freehold or long term leasehold basis.

In September 2016 former Mayor Len Brown announced that Panuku had selected Tawera Group, which Love works for, to restore the historic building. At the time the Auckland Council said it was working through the resource and building consents, particularly in terms of the refurbishment works. While some media reports at the time even suggested the Civic Administration Building had already been sold, it appears now that’s not actually the case. 

“Now they want to virtually give it away and allow the purchaser, the developer, to the profit from the money we’ve put into the City Rail Link (CRL) project,” Lee says.

The proposed apartment complex would be right above the underground Aotea Station being built as part of the CRL project.

“I don’t know all the actual details and that that’s why we’ve put forward the motion. But there is a paper in the secret confidential part of the agenda which reveals some of the details and people wouldn’t believe it.”

Fellow councillor John Watson shares Lee's concerns and has seconded his motion that the council will vote on this week. He says he's concerned about maintaining the heritage status of the building, but also the complete lack of transparency from Panuku.

"We have absolutely no idea how the heritage status of the building is being protected. There were previously some concerns about its facade being removed which is part of its intrinsic value."

And he says the councillors are also being kept in the dark over what it's being sold for.  

"I have heard rumours that the price is scandalously low, but we want to ascertain exactly how much it is. Councillors are being asked to dispose of New Zealand's first skyscraper without knowing what the price is."  

The building was designed by Hungarian architect Tibor Karl (TK) Donner and was officially opened in 1966. It is recognised as New Zealand’s first skyscraper and building the structure required the use of, what was at the time, cutting edge construction techniques.

Panuku director of development Allan Young says the development agreement for the regeneration of Civic Administration Building is between the Auckland Council and Civic Lane Ltd. But he says he can’t divulge any of the details.

“Panuku is continuing to work through the details of the development agreement with Civic Lane Limited, we are unable to provide an exact date but we hope to conclude an agreement very soon.

“The development agreement between Panuku and Civic Lane Limited for the regeneration of the Civic Administration Building (CAB) is confidential and cannot be discussed (this includes the price). Panuku is continuing to work through the details of the agreement to regenerate the CAB and surrounding land into a mixed use development featuring retail, commercial, hospitality, and accommodation, breathing new life into a key part of our city centre," Young says.

“The redevelopment of the CAB will meet Council’s heritage and design requirements for this iconic building and will deliver on the desired outcomes for the project, as outlined by Council when it was given the green light.”

Civic Lane's Love failed to respond to questions from interest.co.nz

The wider development is expected to see new commercial office and retail space, as well as a 100-odd bedroom boutique hotel on Mayoral Drive itself.

But the redevelopment of the Civic Administration Building may face yet another delay as Auckland Council looks at the feasibility of Lee’s proposal to suspend the sale at a full council meeting on Thursday.

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I guess the sale didn't pass the pub test!

Having property developers on a CCO. What could possibly go wrong? The late Penny Bright made some interesting comments a few years back.