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Five years on: the transformation of Victoria Street

Evelyn Page expressionist painting St Peter's Church and Wellington 1954-1
Evelyn Page – Wellington 1954

by Gregor Thompson
On Friday the 7th of August in 2015, a ceremony celebrating the completion of Wellington’s Victoria Street Transformation was held; among the participants, a not-yet-political Peter Jackson welcomed the development. The city council incentive was to encourage growth in an area that wasn’t achieving its potential.

Mayor Celia Wade Brown was proud to introduce the effort that ran only slightly over budget. Talking about the project prior to construction she claimed:

“The improvements – which include wider footpaths, two new paved park areas, more than 55 street trees and a new southbound cycle lane – will make this area a more appealing place to be, and hopefully encourage more landowners and developers to invest here.”

The work included realigning and widening the footpaths on both sides; retention of the existing road width to allow for future bus and cycling improvements; new paved parks at the corner of Ghuznee Street (Volunteers’ Corner) and near the intersection with Vivian Street; the installation of storm water drains and an improvement of water infrastructure, and a 1.7m wide southbound cycle lane between parked cars and the traffic. At the time cyclists were sharing a 3m wide lane with general traffic.

The largest point of contention was which trees ought to line the newly improved boulevard; after a submission process, Wellingtonians opted for Italian Alders, evidently due to their success further down the street.

In relation to growth, the Transport and Urban Development Committee Chair at the time, Andy Foster, predicted:

“Over time we expect there to be more than 1100 new apartments housing at least 2500 people in this area and an additional 37,000 sq. metres of new commercial space”

So, let’s see how it’s all going.

The first large scale development in the area was overseen by Stratum. Run by experienced developer Craig Stewart, Stratum’s website proclaims to undertake development that is uncompromising on materials, design and quality without “an excessive price tag.”

Stratum’s first contribution, the Victoria Precinct, is an $80 million development comprising of Northern and Southern blocks that back on to the iconic St Peter’s Church. The church adds character value to the apartments and assures buyers that their sun and views of the Kelburn Hill will not likely be taken away anytime soon. The 11 and 13 storey blocks consist of 140 one, two and three bedroom apartments ranging from $350,000 to $639,000; both towers had opened by 2019 and all the properties sold directly off the plans.

Strtum Pinnacle

Directly next to Precinct is another of Stratum’s developments, the $100 million, 17-storey Pinnacle apartment complex. Pinnacle was slower than expected to get off the ground but when completed (likely next year) will contribute another 86 similarly priced and sized apartments to the neighbouring development. All 2 bedroom units have been sold, with the rest likely to go before construction is finished. Craig Stewart also owns the empty sites at 91 and 95 Dixon Street.

Outside of the work being done by Stratum, Willis Bond, the company behind Clyde Quay Wharf, Chews Lane Precinct, Xero House and One Market Lane have just begun construction on their $140million Victoria Lane base-isolated apartment complex. 123 new apartments, 300 jobs as well as 6,000 square metres of office space (fully leased) and over 1,000 square metres of premium retail space will be added to the northern end of Te Aro. The apartments are towards the higher end of the price spectrum ranging from one-bedroom apartments that cost $685,000 all the way up to penthouses which will be selling for 1.8million.

The project is being built simultaneously with new office space to be occupied by the Regional Council. The space has been built sensitively to allow for the maintenance of the historic C. Smith façade on the Cuba Street side, in order to keep the area’s heritage intact. The complex is the third of four instalments of large scale development that was kicked off in 2018 by the Te Auaha Campus, the creative arts building constructed for Whitireia and WelTec (which have now merged).

Further up the road at 109-111 Dixon Street is the $65 million 20 storey apartment building comprising 114 two bedroom apartments that can be broken up into single bedroom and studio apartments. Beneath is an alleyway that connects Dixon Street to Feltex Lane with 6 commercial spaces to occupy the ground floor.

Dixon 104

Across the road, 104 Dixon Street will also become a housing complex.

Aside from these new constructions, several less obvious commercial conversions are underway, the Wellington Company’s partnership with the council on the Willis Street side of the same block for instance.

Household name Ian Cassels and his Wellington Company are also building 61 architectural terraces and 48 minimalist apartments right in the centre of Te Aro. Aptly named Aro, the low-rise development is to begin construction this year.

And further up Victoria Street, the Kiwibuild/Nightingale Group Sunset West apartments are rising high. The 28-unit complex is scheduled for completion in April.

So, while the Italian Adlers are still in their infancy, things in Te Aro are really starting to move. The developments and the influx of residents will benefit the area’s retail and hospitality sectors which have been impacted by the pandemic and have struggled compared to their Cuba Street counterparts.

Even before these buildings are occupied, the area is beginning to pick up. Splendid, a photography shop, has just moved into a commercial site on Ghuznee Street that had been empty for some time. Owner-operator Sean Atkin is optimistic about the growth in the area:

“We initially wanted to be as near to Cuba Street as possible but the size of the store we were after was a little difficult to find. When looking at 85 Ghuznee we stood and watched all of the construction in Victoria Street and realised the amount of people that would be based nearby and felt that was just as lucrative as Cuba Street. “

Perhaps this is why the popular Malaysian restaurant Little Penang decided to move from its seemingly ideal location on Dixon Street to Victoria Street earlier this year.

Three years from now, this part of central Wellington will house another 1,600 or so Wellingtonians, with a considerable amount of room still to move. The most densely populated part of Wellington is fast becoming the most densely populated part of the country. Since August 2015, well over $1billion of private property investment has already or is about to go into Te Aro.

There are important lessons to be learnt from this process.

First of all, it appears that New Zealand housing ideology might be shifting. Never before have New Zealanders been more willing to settle into apartment living. This of course may be a product of our lack of choice but it is in any case a progressive development towards creating more sustainable cities.

Secondly, if done correctly, it’s clear the economics of development – making space profitable enough to entice private enterprise – can be manipulated at relatively minimal public cost. The Victoria Street Transformation cost $13 million; 5 years on it has seemingly kick-started a domino effect of investment in the Cuba/Victoria precinct. The outcome is one of the very few concrete mechanisms helping to alleviate pressure on the housing market.

Good planning creates value, often in creative and efficient ways. Another equally clever idea is needed to solve the riddle of the northern end of Adelaide Road.

If there has been a sense of immobility in this city, with decision making the exception to the rule, then the pieces of the puzzle could include green space, wide footpaths, drinking fountains, park benches, street lights, heritage maintenance, sunlight and Italian trees … Instead of scratching our heads, we should be putting them together. Density done well should be the goal, so let’s think about how we achieve it.

2 comments:

  1. Stephen Bland, 9. October 2020, 11:21

    The only reason Cassells is a household name is the negative publicity he receives for his shonky developments. Left Bank, the facade on the Working Mens Club on Cuba Mall, the appalling convent debacle in Island Bay, the Shelley Bay slight of hand.

     
  2. Local, 9. October 2020, 11:45

    And now Mt Crawford/Motu Karangi/Miramar Peninsula Heritage Park?

     

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