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A new building on the cutting edge

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Eighteen months after the earthquakes began wrecking the building he called the love of his life, Richard Owen is about to start rebuilding.

The Owen family has signed up law firm Wynn Williams as the major tenant in what will be a new seven-storey office building on the corner of Montreal and Hereford streets.

The site had contained the historic eight-storey St Elmo Courts, an office building constructed in 1930 as one of Christchurch’s first apartment complexes. It was demolished in March last year and the rubble added to the Lyttelton Port reclamation.

The September quake had damaged the building beyond economic repair and Owen and his family were fighting the requirement for a $150,000 resource consent to demolish it when the February quake removed any uncertainty.

Auckland developer Latitude Group was keen to buy the cleared site and had plans drawn up, but the deal was never done. The Owen family made the call to rebuild themselves.

Owen had owned the building for 30 years, and says leases were agreed with a handshake rather than paperwork.

“St Elmo was one of the most beautiful buildings in Christchurch, it’s impossible today to build like that,” Owen says.

The building had indemnity insurance only, so the $11 million project will be funded, in part, through “borrowing millions”.

Son Ashton Owen says the family are now looking forward, rather than back, and are pleased to be among those rebuilding the central city.

“After the earthquakes we were obviously pretty distressed, but now we want to create something that’s really aesthetically attractive for Christchurch,” Ashton Owen says. “We have to march on.”

Wynn Williams will take two and a half floors in the building. The firm had been in BNZ House in Cathedral Square, then moved out to the Homebase shopping centre in Shirley after the February earthquake.

The new building has been designed with copper, timber and amber-coloured glass, creating a look Richard Owen describes as “warm, friendly and glowing”.

For future proofing it will be built to 180 per cent of earthquake code on base isolators, the same technology supporting Christchurch Women’s Hospital.

It will be the first base-isolated office building in Christchurch. The Owens say that at $150,000 the base isolators are not expensive, costing less than the sprinkler system.

The new building will also use the timber-lamination technology developed at the University of Canterbury, which allows multi- storey and large span structures to be built with timber frames.

The building will have a laneway opening on to ground floor spaces, which could include a cafe and tapas bar. Annual rents for the 700 square metre office floors will be between $350 and $400 a per sqm, and the Owens are aiming for a four-green-star rating.

They believe their location next to the Christchurch City Council headquarters should help attract tenants.

Construction is to start next month, and will take a year.
4 May 2012