$10million in exchange for demolition?

Wealthy developer Mark Dunatschik has offered to pay $5m to help strengthen St Gerard’s, and another $5m to help strengthen St Mary of the Angel’s. But there’s a condition. He’ll write the cheques only if he’s allowed to demolish the heritage Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay.

Hank Schouten reports the offer in the DomPost this morning. The affluent developer must feel really, really strongly about wanting to get rid of his heritage building. He’s now making his fourth legal bid to get approval for the demolition.

His first application for a resource consent was turned down by city council Commissioners in February last year. In October their decision was upheld by the Environment Court. After which Mr Dunajtschik took his case to the High Court, which ordered that the case be re-heard.. As a result, the issue is back in the Environment Court, where the judge has said that he cannot accept the $10m offer:

The judge said there were precedents for such offers to be picked up, but they had to be voluntary and could not be imposed by the court.

So it seems that the $10m offer doesn’t have a place in the legal process which is yet again considering the unpopular and twice-rejected demolition plan. Hank Schouten also reports that the judge had a number of questions about Mr Dunajtschik’s demolition case:

The judge challenged valuation figures advanced to support the claim that strengthening the [Harcourts] building was not viable. He said valuations and financial assessments were contradictory, confusing, and boiled down to what Dunajtschik thought was acceptable. The judge also questioned whether the building was really separate from the adjoining 25-storey HSBC office tower, also owned by Dunajtschik, and which he wants to extend on to the Harcourts site. There was agreement to retain the Harcourts building when consent was issued to build the HSBC tower, the HSBC lift tower was built inside what was the Harcourt building, and the judge asked whether it was part of the same property. Dunajtschik’s lawyer, Con Anastasiou, insisted that, while the two buildings were both owned by Dunajtschik, and while part of the HSBC encroached on to the Harcourts site, they were “chalk and cheese” and were run separately.

The judge said he was confused, and “there is a lot of sophistry going on”. He also questioned how the building was liable to fail in an earthquake, what risks it posed to public safety relative to other buildings, including the HSBC, which could shed glass on the street.

Perhaps there’s still hope for the heritage building, however:

Dunajtschik was ready, willing and able to retain it if he could secure a tenant. He had negotiated for months to secure a deal with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. “He is trying to find a use for a building that is currently a cadaver,” Anastasiou said.

Mark Dunajtschik seems to have council support for another of his plans – to build a Hilton Hotel and Convention Centre across the road from Te Papa, where he wants ratepayers to pay $2m per year for twenty years to “lease” the Convention Centre though the hotel operator, and not the council, will be running it. This proposal will be debated by councillors at the end of the month. They’ll no doubt be surprised to learn that he can afford to pay $10million if this will buy him the right to demolish a heritage building on the Golden Mile.

Maximus: Sweetener? Bribe? Goodwill offer?
A strong steel frame



  1. Nora, 20. August 2014, 12:52

    The Harcourts building over many years appears to have survived many earthquakes, including two in 1942, just days apart when Manners Street was I believe quite a mess but no reports of damage of this building on Lambton Quay.

    In the last few years Wellington has seen the strengthening of the Huddart Parker and Hope Gibbons Buildings and currently the Public Trust Building with I understand no please to the Council from the owners for financial support. However, we ratepayers are being asked to support the funding of the Convention Centre for 20 years; is this to assist the developer to build a tower block to replace the listed heritage Harcourts?

  2. Ellie, 20. August 2014, 16:36

    The Harcourt’s Building has survived so much, now it just has to survive Mark Dunatschik

  3. Harry, 20. August 2014, 18:21

    Remember that the present tax laws (which I support) provide a return of 33% to any donor giving money to such worthy causes as St Gerards & St Mary of the Angels.
    This means that Mr Dunatschik’s generous offer of $10m must mean that he will be giving $15,000,000 before the taxpayers give him back one-third. Can he confirm that this is what he really means?
    Any decent accountant would also make it tax-deductible which reduces the $10m by another 30% or so.

  4. Historian, 20. August 2014, 21:01

    Funny he cannot afford to fix the Harcourts building for a few million but can afford to offer ready money of a similar amount to two other ones.

  5. Paul, 21. August 2014, 10:14

    @Historian, that’s what I thought too. Pity the court can’t order him to spend that money on properly strengthening the Harcourts building instead of splashing it around as a bribe

  6. Hel, 26. August 2014, 14:20

    The Harcourts building is a genuine earthquake risk in one of the main CBD areas. If it is not economic to fix it then it will simply be left to deteriorate until it is pulled down, how can that be a good outcome for anyone. [Read Maximus who denies it is an earthquake risk: it has a strong steel skeleton frame, and does not need to be demolished. ]

  7. Maximus, 26. August 2014, 23:32

    Hel, a comment I made on another post may help explain :
    “Look – it seems to me to be a crazy think to try and make predictions about earthquakes – but here’s the thing: it’s the UnReinforced Masonry buildings (URM….) that are the buildings most likely to collapse. Not the steel framed ones, and not the concrete framed ones. Thanks to Sir Michael Fowler, nearly all the URM in Lambton Quay have already been demolished, and nearly all the remaining ones have been strengthened already. There are some exceptions – Stewart Dawson’s corner, I believe, is one such URM. The old BNZ opposite: heavily strengthened. (Cuba St, lower Courtenay, Newtown, are all a different story. Many URM and many likely collapses.) But the Harcourts building, from what I’ve been told, has a steel frame. It may be nowhere near the current code, or it may be quite close to 33%, I don’t think we have got to the bottom of that. But I’d say that it is in no danger of collapse. Bits may fall off it, sure, and in the case of the cornice falling to the ground from several stories up, that’s a huge danger. But it’s not unresolvable – parapets and cornices can and do get restrained and reinforced and this could be done. But no need to knock the whole building down just because of that.”

  8. Elaine Hampton, 27. August 2014, 14:54

    Well! we don’t need this building? The Sunday Star Times Business section in a very sympathetic article about Mr Dunatschick tells us that these types of buildings were built in most towns of that day and there is another one in Adelaide.
    So there we are, who needs two?


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