Heritage properties to revitalise Tonks Grove


Most of the heritage buildings relocated and restored as part of the NZ Transport Agency's Wellington Inner City Bypass Project have been sold through the recent tender process.

The sales will attract additional investment in the Te Aro area, as the new owners go on to refurbish the interiors to make the buildings fit for a variety of new uses.

A total 85 tenders were received by Bayleys Real Estate, with 12 sales finalised and a further three in the process of being finalised. The total value of these 15 sales is around $7.5 million. Five have been sold for between $750,000 and $1 million, one between $500,000 and $750,000 and nine with a sale price under $500,000.  All but one property requires complete interior refurbishment.

Wellington regional director of the NZ Transport Agency, Deb Hume, says the agency is delighted at the interest shown in purchasing a piece of Wellington’s history.  She says the sales will revitalise the precinct, which encompasses the new Tonks Grove from the top of Cuba Street through to Kensington Street, as well as properties in nearby Willis Street and Oak Park Avenue.

Dr Hume says the process for the sales of this surplus Crown-owned land has involved an offer-back to some former owners and iwi, and has taken considerable time because of complex crown procedures and the number of parties involved.

The properties that were relocated and underwent exterior refurbishment as part of the bypass project are zoned for residential and commercial usage.  A covenant on the sales of nine of the properties is that the interior refurbishment is undertaken in consultation with the Historic Places Trust.

Workers cottages at numbers one and three Tonks Grove are to become serviced apartments for tourists and visitors to Wellington, says new owner, Jeff Montgomery, who already operates City Bed and Breakfast in Mount Victoria.  Mr Montgomery says designs to fit out the interiors of the heritage cottages have already been submitted to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for approval.  He is hoping to open the cottages for business by October this year, and already has bookings for the Rugby World Cup next year.

The cottages were built in the 1880s by the Tonks family for themselves and their workers, along with several other dwellings in the area including a two-story Edwardian dwelling that was the home of original settler Kate Tonks. 

Relocated from the former Tonks Avenue to number 23 Kensington Street, property investor Brett Mainey has purchased this Edwardian home along with two others in Kensington Street. He plans to complete the fit-outs of the interiors to a “fabulous standard”, and retain them for long-term heritage rentals.

Mr Mainey says his firm was involved in the restoration of the Chicago-style Dominion building in Victoria Street, built in the 1920s, into 31 apartments in 1996.  He says the Kensington Street houses will be “meticulously rebuilt on the inside”.

Two of the larger heritage properties – the former Catacombs and Avonside in Oak Park Avenue - are set to be fully restored by new owner-occupiers.  The Catacombs was constructed in an Italianate style in 1873 for Andrew Young – for many years a Wellington City Councillor. It became an obstetrics hospital in 1921, and took on the name Catacombs when a social service organisation took over its usage in the 1970s.  The house was shifted from Willis Street to Oak Park Avenue to make way for the bypass five years ago.

A former boarding house, “Avonside”, also built in the Italianate style in the 1880s, was moved just 25 metres southwest in Oak Park Avenue to complement the setting of the Catacombs mansion, with both north-facing. The pair are understood to have been bought by individual families intending to refurbish the interiors to their original splendour.

Two properties – the former Stagecraft Theatre relocated to 15 Kensington Street, and the former Bar Bodega (originally a chemist shop) at 278 Willis Street, have been withdrawn from sale temporarily due to the tender prices being considered too low.  NZTA is to evaluate buyer reservations about the properties, in consultation with the Historic Places Trust, and remarket the properties.

Funds from the sale of the properties, acquired over a 40 year period by the National Roads Board and Transit New Zealand as part of their planning acquisitions, will by used by the NZ Transport Agency for new roads and roading improvements.