Timaru south Stafford St hotel project ‘not viable’, developer says

The collapse of a deal to build a hotel at the south end of Stafford St is part of an “urban disaster”, a Timaru civic designer says.

Nigel Gilkison said he was not surprised to hear, on Wednesday, that Timaru District Holdings Ltd (TDHL), which sold the block of buildings at 101-123 Stafford St to South Canterbury business Thompson Engineering and Construction in July 2022, had bought the sites back for the original selling price, with the project now considered “not viable”.

The hotel was to be built on a 2000sqm site, which is occupied by the former Majestic Theater building and two old retail shops.

“I don’t think that TDHL has the first clue as to what they are going to do with these sites,” Gilkison said.

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“It doesn’t seem like they have a credible plan, nor any idea how to deliver it.”

TDHL’s “inaction on these sites is really holding back the south end of town”, he said.

TDHL purchased the block of buildings for $1.7m in September 2018, and, in October 2022, confirmed it sold the three properties for $360,000less than a third of what it paid for them.

Gilkison said having acquired the properties, the 100% owned subsidiary of the Timaru District Council, now seemed to be “hawking them off to anyone who is willing to buy them, at a knock-down price”.

“TDHL purchasing these sites has meant that they have not been available for others to purchase and redevelop, as they potentially would have been, if they had remained in private ownership.”

The buildings had sat derelict and neglected because they were effectively off the open market, he said.

“Why did they buy them in the first place, and what was the reason for seeking to amalgamate the titles? Did they have a plan? If so, what was it, and why did it fall over?”

Timaru urban designer Nigel Gilkison said inaction on the sites was

Valentina Bellomo/Stuff

Timaru urban designer Nigel Gilkison said inaction on the sites was “really holding back the south end of town”.

He wanted to know what the vision was for the site, and asked where was the integration with the City Hub master plan.

He suggested opening it up to public scrutiny and inviting design proposals that “would actually deliver some meaningful change and stimulate the regeneration of the south end of Stafford St.”

“What we need is an integrated, urban design-led solution which focuses on quality place making.”

He said, from an urban design perspective, the purchase of these sites by TDHL “really is a disaster”.

“The buildings have been left empty and unmaintained. They look terrible when they are neglected.

“Why have they not, at the very least, given the opportunity to local entrepreneurs, start-ups, artists or charitable organizations to use these buildings, perhaps at a reduced rental, which would at least give some life and activity to that end of the town.”

A comprehensive, cohesive and credible plan was needed to be put in place for the redevelopment of the area, he said.

“We cannot afford to leave the design proposals for redeveloping this vital part of our town center up to the whims of the lowest bidder – we need an agreed plan and vision to be put in place first that will deliver real enhancement of the CBD and for the people who use it.”

Announcing the buyback of the properties, TDHL general manager Frazer Munro said despite the development not proceeding, the protections it had included in the contract ensured the site was easily transferred back to TDHL to enable future development opportunities.

“While TDHL are disappointed that Thompson has decided not to proceed, we remain committed to the long-term revitalization of the CBD/heritage hub,” he said.

“We understand that the sites will play an important part in the revitalization of the CBD, and we remain confident that in time a suitable development opportunity will arise, especially as the upgrade of the theater gets under way.”

TDHL sold the three properties from 101-111 Stafford St, for $360,000.

AIMAN AMERUL MUNER/Stuff

TDHL sold the three properties from 101-111 Stafford St, for $360,000.

The economic outlook was changing for many, he said.

“However, we do not regret entering into the process and contract as we believe it gave local firms opportunities and showed what could be done on the site.”

He said TDHL supported “the vision of a vibrant and sustainable city center that can and will meet the diverse needs of the district’s current and future residents”.

“TDHL will continue to seek development opportunities for south Stafford St as part of its vision.”

The proposed hotel was to be built opposite the Theater Royal, which was undergoing a $30 million upgrade that included the development of a new Heritage hub for the town.

In June 2021, TDHL made an appeal to developers interested in coming forward with a proposal for the buildings. That resulted in four proposals.

Munro has been approached for further comment.

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