Invercargill city block opening: 'A lot of people would have given up'

Invercargill's $180 million city block redevelopment is about to welcome its first customers marking a significant milestone in a project that's been years in the making.

An almost entire central city block has been cleared and is being redeveloped to make way for a new retail precinct, food and beverage outlets, and 650 car parks.

The first stage of the project will open to the public at 9am on Thursday morning.

Included in Thursday’s opening will be anchor tenant Farmers, as well as Glassons, Pascoes the Jewellers, 2degrees, Merchant 1948, Michael Hill, Pagani, Mister Minit, Mobile King and Amazon.

Three hundred of the 650 carparks in the centre of the block will also be available from Thursday.

Other retailers Cotton On Mega, EB Games, Just Cuts and The Coffee Club will open in the coming weeks.

Stage two of the project is scheduled to open in November. It will add a further 4000m2 of shopping area, including food outlets, and the additional 350 car parks.

Invercargill Central project director Geoff Cotton said there’s been a significant amount of mental strength shown in getting to Thursday’s opening. Much of that had come from the development’s key driver, Scott O’Donnell, he added.

Cotton, who joined as project director in January 2019, said there have been obstacles from the resource consent process to the funding of the project, and on to the construction phase.

It has included staffing shortages in the lead-up to Thursday’s opening because of Covid-19.

The challenges stretched back to before Cotton was involved, he said.

It included HWCP Management Limited, led by O’Connell, bit by bit acquiring the various individual building titles which made up the block.

Cotton has been managing projects throughout the world since 1987. It was very unusual for a largely entire block, in the heart of a city, to be acquired and redeveloped, he said.

“You’d have to go to some war-torn country to get the whole city block.”

“In much bigger cities, the cost would be prohibitive where land is more expensive. It would also be unusual to have a city block that had not had much improvement to it. There were almost no new buildings. Most of them hadn’t been strengthened or done up.”

After securing the titles the required funds needed to be sorted to proceed with demolition and construction.

Invercargill City Council, Crown Regional Holdings Limited, O’Donnell Family Investments and Geoff Thomson, came on board as equity investors. Community Trust South has also supported the project.

Thomson initially committed up to $25m to the project but pulled out after he was “sick of hitting a brick wall” dealing with the council.

He had already spent about $4m and agreed to leave that in the project, but it left a $21m shortfall to sort.

Added to that was a lengthy consent process, while the project was also met with some opposition, most notably from fellow commercial building owner Gaire Thompson who filed a High Court injunction delaying demolition.

Demolition eventually started in January 2020, and two years and five months later the first customers will be welcomed on Thursday.

Cotton paid tribute to O’Donnell for working through each of the significant challenges that have been sent his way.

“He is certainly not a character that lets setbacks set himself back. He enjoys the challenge to find a way around it, and he has. A lot of people would have given up,” Cotton said.

The third stage in the project, likely to open in late February, will include a link from the Reading Cinemas movie theatre into the development. A bowling alley and Time Zone outlet are also expected to be included, creating an entertainment-type precinct.

At the same time, HW Richardson Group is developing a new office building on the corner of Esk St and Dee St, and a medical centre is also planned for the block.

Logan Savory Stuff: