$10m project to convert central Lower Hutt office building into apartments

Unused office space in Lower Hutt's lagging CBD is being used to fill a gap in the city’s desperately understocked housing market.

The three top floors of the CML building on Laings Rd will be refitted for 30 apartments in a $10 million project backed by developers John Feast​ and Ian Cassels​.

Feast said he and Cassels bought the space about a year ago and believed much of the commercial space on the upper floors had been unused for several years.

With the conversion scheduled to be ready in 2022, extensive work including earthquake strengthening needed to take place.

Built in 1959 the building’s styling takes cues from art deco and modernist design, and Feast said he intended on keeping as much of its original character as possible. Commercial spaces would be kept on the ground floor.

Lower Hutt is suffering from a severe lack of housing stock which has sent prices in the city skyrocketing.

The apartments went to market last Thursday. Egmont Dixon’s Sophie Nunns​, the development manager for the project, said about half the apartments were under offer by the end of the opening day. The development’s website showed 20 of the units were under offer on Tuesday. Prices started at around $400,000.

The number of apartments in the CBD is set to rapidly increase with two other developments now underway – Cassels’ 29 unit High Street Quarter, and another 40 apartment office conversion being built by Kevin Melville​. Cassels is also behind the conversion of the 10-storey Avalon Studios tower.

Lower Hutt’s central business area has been in decline since the Queensgate Mall opened in 1986. Smaller owner operator businesses have struggled, unable to compete with the centre.

Feast said people living in the central city would reinvigorate the area as businesses moved in to meet demand for services.

Dr Imran Muhammad​, associate professor of urban planning and design at Massey University, said converting surplus office space to housing was an efficient solution to the shortage of housing and land.

“Especially since Covid, more [people] are working from home, so there are more empty offices. If done well, they can tick a lot of boxes.

“Repurposing unused ghost spaces in town can reactivate not only the building but the surrounding streets as well.”

He said office conversions were not common in New Zealand, but was hopeful mixed use areas would become more common.

Having separate areas designated for living and for work was “post-war thinking” which left business areas empty in the evenings and in the weekends. | Matthew Tso | Apr 28 2021

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