Orakei Bay Village rises from industrial roots

5:00 AM Saturday June 17, 2017 True Commercial

Orakei Bay Village, located in a 50-year-old warehouse, is home to funky eateries and boutique businesses. Photo / Supplied

Auckland food, hospitality and fashion hubs have recently turned up in a gin distillery, a council service building and various warehouses.

Commercial tenants are gravitating towards an industrial look and feel, says CBRE’s director of NZ retail services, Grant Unsworth.

He points to Orakei Bay Village, an instant hit when it opened earlier this year, with brands including Farro, Brothers Beer and Bird on a Wire.

“That followed a wave of other destinations such as Ponsonby Central, Brickworks and City Works Depot. These show ‘shabby chic’ can be just as valued as high-end retail in the CBD, or shopping centres such as Sylvia Park,” says Unsworth.

And the trend in not unique to New Zealand. Repurposing is taking off in cities around the world — most notably the meatpacking district in New York.

“It’s an opportunity for clever developers to utilise older buildings, with refurbishment creating unique retail environments with an edgy look and feel. Hospitality tenants want new and different environments to trade from.

Older warehouse buildings can be converted to provide attractive environments to deliver a more natural and airy and spatial experience,” says Unsworth.

A case in point is the buildings that now make up what is known as City Works Depot, on the corner Cook and Victoria Sts. This 2ha site was overlooked for years, being widely known as a carpark.

The buildings were once part of the Auckland City Council Workshops, serving a range of functions for the council: admin offices, facilities for street and drainage repair, council vehicle garaging, electrical maintenance and water supply labs.

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Farro, the Botanist and SoBeauBaby are tenants at Orakei Bay Village. Photo / Supplied

Nat Cheshire, the designer charged with repurposing the former derelict structures, is clear about what the appeal is for projects like these: “Integrity. The scale, robustness and romance of old working buildings is hard to replicate in contemporary development.

Particularly with respect to height — that most underrated dimension in architecture. These old buildings were designed and made in a time when height was understood, valued and, often, required. We’re so much meaner now — our buildings squeeze us down to suit the smallest gib wall panel available.”

Janene Draper from Farro cites the old warehouse feel, high-pitched ceilings and natural light that bring charm and character to the space.

History is another point which draws tenants to the re-purposed industrial structures and character spaces. Gracing the walls of the Orakei Bay Village are photos from its former life as a gin distillery.

This era, which carried through to the early 1990s, is still seen in the soft pink and dusty teal original paint on the walls.

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Trend brands operating within the complex include Brothers Beer. Photo / Supplied

Ben Edgar from Bird on a Wire explains the appeal: “Auckland is a bit devoid of interesting history and buildings so the more we can create interesting design and architecture, and leverage off existing structures with natural potential and character, the better.”

For Nat Cheshire having buildings with industrialised heritage offers what he calls, “a rich territory to design in”.

“It places our design work in conversation with — and by implication, makes it an extension of — the history of a place, its people, its cultures, endeavours, its hopes and dreams. . . . it implies buildings have a life beyond that for which they were initially intended. That teaches us something about our responsibility as the makers of new buildings, too.

If scale, character, and ability to offer a bespoke look are what attracts retailers to former industrial sites, it is the cluster of likeminded businesses in food, hospitality and fashion which helps as part of the leasing decision, according to Unsworth.

“Examples can be seen in Britomart, Ponsonby and Newmarket, where boutique fashion operators establish, as opposed to the mainstream brands who tend to gravitate to the shopping centre environment.

Likewise, some food and hospitality sector operators search for the unique customer experience which best suits their offering.”

“Personally, I have a passionate dislike for most modern inward facing malls and a lot of the tenants they attract, and as such we look for more interesting sites with like-minded tenants. Reinvigoration of these industrial spaces attracts more interesting, creative and niche businesses,” says Edgar.

“The new shopping and dining precincts make Auckland a more interesting city.”