Hamilton city rebuild just getting started

Hamilton's drab CBD is in the middle of a facelift.

The city's experiencing a makeover of massive proportions and, according to developers, it's only just begun.

Buildings are being demolished and office fronts are being stripped bare. Modern architecture is rising in their place.

"We're just getting started," Hamilton architect Brian White said.

White, one half of architectural firm EdwardsWhite, said a new Hamilton is rising out of the old one.

5 crossroads
Demolition crews move in after Duncan & Ebbett moved locations to the north of the city.
"It's been a slow collection of things - building on things and building on things - and I think we are slowly gathering momentum."

Some redevelopments knock down old buildings and start with a clean slate. Others are part-demolitions, like the former Foodtown supermarket on Bryce Street, which became the Genesis building. It had more than $2 million in value left standing and built upon.

EdwardsWhite associate Dan Smith, who worked extensively on the Genesis building, said Hamilton is a blank canvas.

"It's been neglected a little bit for a long time and for me - I moved down from Auckland - I can see the city and go: Wow, there is so much potential here."

A 13-storey building with hotel rooms, serviced apartments, a restaurant and commercial space has been approved for the site of the old Les Mills gym.

Projects completed in the past few years include the Genesis Building, South Bloc on Anglesea Street, CBD Developments' apartment blocks on Anglesea and Vialou streets, The FMG building on Victoria Street, the PwC Centre and the Fastlane Fitness gym.

5 Crossroads commercial development
The former Ebbett Toyota site on Tristram St has been cleared out to make way for a new build. The Parkhaven apartment block is under construction in the background.
Upcoming work, or work under construction, include the Kmart redevelopment, apartments on Tristram Street and updating the six-storey Hallensteins Building on Victoria Street which was converted into apartments about two decades ago.

Currently covered with white plastic wrap, the Hallensteins Building is undergoing a $5.7m upgrade which is expected to take 12 months to complete, said ECS Group project manager Dan Anderson.

"It's going to be all white with a glass balustrade and new windows and it's all going to look pretty modern," Anderson said.

NAI Harcourts commercial saleswoman Kara Gerrand said a decade ago, a running joke was told about tumbleweed rolling down Victoria.
That's changed, she said.

"We really didn't have any developers who focussed on the CBD. Lots of developers were good at industrial stuff and it's only been in the past four or five years that people have decided the CBD is the place to develop," Gerrand said.

Developers gained confidence from the Hamilton Central City Transformation Plan and the remission on development contributions. The remissions will be phased out over the next three years.

Hamilton City Council general manager of city growth Jen Baird said stats are backing up what architects are saying. The May growth indicator report showed retail spending in the CBD was up $74m from $559m in 2009 to $633m.

"There are more people in the central city," Baird said. "Hamilton, over the past few years, has proven to be a very attractive place to move to and to move businesses to and growth, in the end, is about people and people wanting to move their lives here."

CBD property developer Matt Stark wants to create a great place for those people to work and live. It's his hometown, after all.

"It's a desirable place to do business, but the next challenge is to make it a desirable place to live - in the CBD or surrounds," Stark said.

Other smaller cities in New Zealand, such as Napier and New Plymouth, have come up with a theme for their "central heart" and Hamilton needs to do the same, he said.

"As a developer, it's a privilege to do stuff in your hometown and be a part of changing it and taking it back to a place where people believe in it."

Another city developer, Mark Hatwell​, is building the Corrections offices on London Street. He said it's taken two years of planning to get to this point in the city's history.

"It's great to see for Hamilton," Hatwell said. "Everybody has been complaining there is nothing happening around town, but now ... I can't see it stopping. There is nothing on the horizon to say it is going to stop."

From Stuff.co.nz