Hengyi Pacific, the company planning a 57-level tower in downtown Auckland, has already built two Melbourne super-towers and is well under way with a third. And now it has big plans for its site here. Although many Auckland apartment projects have been cancelled before construction began, Hengyi – one of Australasia’s largest high-rise unit specialists – appears set on going ahead. The $300 million Pacifica project would be New Zealand’s tallest apartment tower. Construction is due to start next month, near Auckland’s waterfront.
Dean Fossey, a Hengyi Pacific director who is based in Melbourne but comes to Auckland every fortnight or so, this month showed what the company has done across the Tasman, and revealed more detail of its Auckland plans. “By March next year you’ll be starting to see the structure rising,” he said. Features of Hengyi’s two existing Melbourne towers give an indication of some of the elements planned for the Auckland boutique hotel/apartment tower, on a site between Commerce St and Gore St, a block from the waterfront in the Britomart area.
Hengyi’s first Melbourne project was The William, an office block conversion of two adjacent buildings – a 23-storey tower on William St and a 21-storey building in Little Bourke St. That has an outdoor pool and a hotel. That was followed by the Light House project on Elizabeth St in the Melbourne CBD. The newly opened 69-level, 607-apartment tower is distinctive for its colour and angular floor plates. It has almost a Rubik’s Cube look, all angles, colours and jutting points, making it stand out strongly on the city skyline. Melbourne developers are not afraid of colour – a big difference to Auckland. Elenberg Fraser were the architects and Multiplex Constructions built it.
And Hengyi is now working on Swanston Central, designed by the same architect, a 72-level, 1039-apartment project nearby at 168 Victoria St in Melbourne’s Carlton neighbourhood. In fact, level 69 of Light House provides a bird’s eye view of Multiplex’s progress on Swanston Central. On the ground floor of his offices on Collins St in Melbourne’s CBD, Fossey has models of The William and Swanston Central. Also based in that office is Hengyi chairwoman and founder Min Wang, originally from China, and director Lu Xing, also originally from China but in Melbourne for more than 20 years. Both had returned this month from a trip to Tibet, where they visited temples and viewed Mt Everest, said Xing, sporting Tibetan wrist beads.
Aged in her late 40s, Wang is said to be a billionaire as a result of developing buildings in China. Her CV shows she has an MBA from Beijing University. Her partner, Liang Chen, is Hengyi president but while she lives in Australia, he remains in China. Hengyi is affiliated with mainland Chinese developer Shandong Hengyi. Other Hengyi Pacific directors are Jeff Wang, Fossey and Hengyi’s boss on the ground in New Zealand, Liz Scott, who is the company’s general manager (NZ). Simon Manley is Hengyi’s development manager.
Fossey said car parking efficiencies were one of the features planned for the big Auckland tower. “We don’t dig a lot of holes,” he said, pointing to just two basement levels at The William and two at Swanston Central. “We’re not big on basement digging.” Stacking systems maximised car parking: at the newly opened Light House, there are just 158 parking spaces over seven levels. “This is how we get away from digging a hole.” Two car parking lifts are planned for The Pacifica, with robotic-style car stackers. Residents will drive into a dock, leaving their vehicle on a turntable. The car will then be remotely moved into place. Fossey said Hengyi had examined high-tech car parking systems in Germany and Singapore. “We just use the [car] lift like a passenger lift. Car dependency in Melbourne has diminished.”
In Auckland, ground works for the project will involve boring for piles and pouring concrete for the foundation. The skyscraper itself will be built of concrete – in contrast to the steel-framed Commercial Bay project, now rising nearby – with a double-glazed glass curtain wall. Exterior balconies will be on the lower levels. “Light House has balconies up to about level 40 but it’s not possible above that. It’s a decision we make project-by-project,” Fossey said. The now-rising Swanston Central will have exterior balconies up to about level 24, he said. “But Pacifica will be on a site more exposed to the water than the Melbourne projects are,” Fossey said. Hengyi’s Melbourne projects are far from the city’s tallest. For example, Multiplex is building Australia 108 in the city’s Southbank area, a residential tower that will be 319m tall, not far short of Auckland’s 328m Sky Tower. That Melbourne super-tower is due to open in 2020, and will have 1105 apartments on 100 levels, says Multiplex. Fossey said Aucklanders had welcomed Hengyi’s arrival and were “more welcoming than Sydney or Brisbane”, where the developer has also looked for work. “Going into Auckland, people are interested in what we’re doing, trying to understand it.”
But will the huge Pacifica project flood the market for apartments? In a study, Colliers International found 1391 new apartment units – including those at Pacifica – in the CBD, 961 on the city fringe and 1443 in suburban areas. Half the units are under construction, but building has not started on the other half. Pete Evans, Colliers’ residential project marketing national director, said next year would see the highest number of Auckland apartments completed in more than a decade – but not enough to meet demand, and only a year’s supply. “In major cities with population growth, we would expect supply to be anywhere between 12 to 24 months. Most apartment projects take two to three years to build, so the current under supply will remain in the foreseeable future,” said Evans. “Auckland’s population growth, and banks restricting funding, is not assisting the needed supply of new apartments.”