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Bypass heritage buildings left empty

Nov 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story

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ABANDONED BUILDING: 290 Willis Street


THE HERITAGE buildings of upper Cuba Street are bustling with activity five years after the opening of the controversial bypass.

Heritage buildings moved by the New Zealand Transport Agency to make way for the bypass (now Karo Drive) have been done up and sold, and businesses, tenants and landscaping have transformed the area from its derelict state.

“We’re pleased with all the sales and we believe that these restored historic buildings will revitalise this precinct,” says NZTA spokesman Anthony Frith.

“The buildings themselves will serve as a vibrant and tangible reminder to future generations of Wellington’s historic past.”

But nearby, on upper Willis Street, a cluster of empty buildings remains empty.

The former Bar Bodega, at 278 Willis Street, is one of only three heritage buildings moved for the bypass that remains unsold.

The 19 heritage buildings moved were first offered for sale back to the original owners, then referred for assessment of iwi interests to the Office of Treaty Settlements.

After that,s the NZTA put most of the buildings on the market.

Bar Bodega and the old Stagecraft Theatre were withdrawn temporarily from the market in 2010 when the NZTA deemed the tender price too low.

This year, the Stagecraft Theatre, now on the corner of Karo Drive and Kensington Street, has finally been sold, but the old Bodega remains off the market and along with the heritage property at 130 Abel Smith Street, is unlikely to be up for sale for some time.

“They are being retained while roading investigations for the tunnel-to-tunnel [The Terrace Tunnel to Mt Victoria Tunnel] improvements are under way,” says Mr Frith.

NZTA OWNS 290 Willis Street, though it wasn’t one of the buildings relocated for the bypass.

“It is being retained for the same reasons and would require significant internal refurbishment to make it habitable,” says Mr Frith.

Neave Fraser, owner of picture-framing gallery The Workshop, is glad other buildings in the area have been tenanted, but hopes something will happen with the old Bodega soon.

“It’s tragic.  It’s such a beautiful building.  They spent all this money doing it up, and now it feels like they’ve dropped the ball,” says Ms Fraser.

On the other side of her shop, at 270 Willis Street, the old Citron restaurant is also empty.

Business owners Rex and Wendy Morgan moved out in 2009 when NZTA couldn’t guarantee them more than a month-to-month lease.

“We decided to pursue new opportunities,” says Ms Morgan, now at Plentiful Deli on Marjoribanks Street in Mt Victoria.

Homeless people now take advantage of The Citron’s veranda on warm nights and the backyard has become a drinking hotspot.

“It used to be a beautiful restaurant, now it’s just derelict. We’ve had bottles hurled, and one damaged our car,” says The Workshop’s Ms Fraser.

With new shops and apartments being built across the road, Ms Fraser says upper Willis Street could turn into a happening area.

“But they need to deal with the old buildings.  If they get done up, they’ll get snapped up.”

The only other building retained by NZTA, at 30 Arthur Street, is in the process of being sold.

 

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