Developers looking long-term as region booms

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Kelvyn Eglinton MCs as, from left, Leonard Gardner, Jen Baird, Matt Stark and Jamie Strange field questions from the Grow Waikato audience.

Growth in Waikato sees a host of projects in or nearing construction, including APL’s shift to Cambridge and the redevelopment of the former Hill Laboratories building in Hamilton East.

But there are also constraints as the city’s population closes in on 180,000 with no sign of a letup.

Both sides of the picture were presented at a well-attended Grow Waikato event at Wintec’s Atrium in May, part of a bi-monthly series run by Labour MP Jamie Strange.

Hamilton City Council growth manager Jen Baird presented data that showed five years of strong commercial and industrial development activity but also that the proportion of new industrial build has been minimal.

She said the city was relatively small geographically speaking, and land was a constraint. “When we talk about commercial and industrial growth in Hamilton it quickly becomes a greater Hamilton conversation, it becomes a regional conversation.”

She said the city was under pressure and the council was now looking to see what could be done in the deferred industrial zone in Te Rapa north.

Baird also said the council was considering whether to cap industrial development contributions to ease the cost of Rotokauri land.

“The council are taking this really seriously because they know it is about jobs and it is about industry,” she said.

Beyond that, Baird described the Hamilton to Auckland Corridor plan as a game changer for the city. The council was “knee deep” in a project within that at the moment, she said, looking at the key areas in the greater Hamilton area, with a 50-100 year timeframe.

Hamilton developer Leonard Gardner, of Foster Group, told the audience his company has 27 projects in construction, 16 in their maintenance period and 17 projects in pre-construction.

They include the APL greenfield development at Hautapu. The Waikato aluminium company employs about 650 people, and the new building will be 411 metres long and 109 metres wide, he said.

“That is an exciting project. It’s massive for our region, it’s massive for us, hopefully it will be something we can drive past and be very proud of.”

Fosters is also working with Ebbett as it shifts its Holden dealership from the centre of town to Te Rapa, with work due to start there in a couple of months.

Gardner said Fosters, Ebbett and John Anderson jointly own the site Holden is leaving, and he outlined ambitious plans to turn it into an office park, creating an offering to compete with Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and looking to attract significant tenants from outside the Waikato who would not normally consider the region as an option. He said it was likely to be a 10-year project, but “hopefully faster”.

“Our objective at Fosters Develop is to try to reinvigorate the CBD by creating space that people will come to,” Gardner said. “Momentum in Waikato is growing and we’re in this game for the long haul.”

Gardner also noted that the scaffolding was coming down after a refurbishment and strengthening at 586 Victoria Street. A line of site has been created from the front to the back of the building, which overlooks Waikato River.

“I am passionate about Waikato and I am in a really privileged position in the commercial construction market to have some influence about what we do around the region,” Gardner said.

Fellow city developer Matt Stark also gave an update on some of his high-profile city projects, from the Kmart development to plans for Hamilton East.

Kmart, between Ward and Bryce Streets, is on track to reopen at the end of July. Tristram Precinct immediately behind it is also on track to open in July 2020, with the final tenant shortly to be named, bringing about 1000 people to that part of Hamilton, Stark said.

Across the river, Stark spoke of a village within the Hamilton East village as he forges ahead with the apartment development of the former Hill Laboratories building beside Waikato River. He said the development had the advantage of proximity to town – “it’s only about a six minute walk” – and neighbours that were a known quantity.

He is also in the planning stage of a mixed use development of the Waikato Regional Council building, with about 40 apartments, and said it would be similar to Riverbank Lane.

“It’s bringing the public to interact with the river. It [the river]is such a beautiful asset.”

More novel is Stark Property’s move into waste recycling. The company has bought a materials recovery facility from Christchurch which it is just about to put into north Waikato, Stark said.

“In the construction game we make a lot of waste, and I feel overwhelmingly responsible because we’re an initiator of waste. This is a plant that will process 300,000 tonnes per annum and recycle 83 percent of the construction and industrial waste that goes through it.”

He said the key with development in the region was to master-plan and design for longevity, rather than rushing.

When it came to his own buildings, he said his philosophy was to be intergenerational. “Hopefully our properties will stand the test of time.”

– By Richard Walker

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