A town centre plaza in the carpark next to Ray White was to have been the centre-piece of the village upgrade project… until a leasehold tangle got in the way of the grand plan. What will happen in 2022 when the leases expire?
By Bruce Morris
With the village upgrade almost complete, local eyes are starting to turn to the intended town centre plaza and wondering if it will ever happen.
In the original upgrade plans, the small carpark just off New North Rd (between Albert’s Post and Ray White) was to be converted to a plaza – a pleasant spot to take a breather, eat lunch or read a book in the sun or gather to meet friends.
The idea was to give the village a heart, right beside the railway station and with the pedestrian overbridge bringing a constant flow of people.
But it didn’t work out that way. A complicated lease structure over the carpark meant Auckland Council couldn’t get access to the land, and the upgrade (and station bridge) went ahead without it, chewing up all the available funds.
Eventually, the businessman holding the lease moved on and the council’s property arm, Panuku, took control of the carpark and several of the shops within the block that stretches from Ray White down to Ballast Lane.
But the council was legally obliged to meet the lease agreements it inherited – and that included some carparking commitments running until 2022.
There have been some local concerns that Panuku might introduce new leases over the carpark beyond 2022, putting more obstacles in the way of the vision of a town centre plaza.
But the agency has told Mt Albert Inc that the land will not be committed beyond that date.
Panuku portfolio management director Ian Wheeler says the agency “will work with the Albert Eden Local Board so that the car park leases expire in line with the start time of the redevelopment to facilitate the upgrade”.
He also gave some insight into Panuku’s attitude to the types of tenants it would lease the Mt Albert properties to. This followed a Mt Albert Inc column discussing the role of landlords in achieving a more attractive retail mix in the village.
Mr Wheeler says Panuku weighs up a number of factors when considering a prospective tenant.
“As part of our mandate is to generate income from the leases of council-owned properties to allocate back to council for use across the region, we look to achieve a market rate return on rent where possible,” he says.
“We also take into account other factors such as whether a tenant complements an existing retail mix, what would be a good fit for the community and, in order to minimise any potential financial risk to council, whether they are a viable tenant.”
In some cases, he says, Panuku consults with local boards on lease terms for properties it manages.
Local board chair Peter Haynes says he’s pleased to see the clear statement from Panuku that they will work to align the leases for the carparks with the development of the town plaza.
Dr Haynes says the board will almost certainly be looking to progress the town plaza project on the carpark site in the next long-term plan, which will cover the three years from July 2021.
But a lot will happen between now and then.
Not least among the influencing factors are local body elections in October next year, though two other issues also loom large:
- The cost: under the original plans going back three or four years, the plaza development was expected to cost around $1m. Since then, construction costs have exploded and there may not be any change out of $1.5m. A local board under the present political leadership would expect to pay a portion of the total cost, but the council itself will carry most of the burden… and million-plus sums will always be obstacles as the council progresses its major infrastructure programmes.
- The case for more parking: the village upgrade has taken away 24 carparks and the pressure may be on from some businesses to claw back lost ground. The “we need more carparks” lobby may run head-on into locals wanting an attractive and inviting heart to the village strip – a classic urban conflict.