Wellington Scoop

$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