It’s considered the star performer of Christchurch’s anchor projects. And it has taken the gravity effect – of larger bodies attracting smaller ones around them – to make it work. The Innovation Precinct has several buildings taking shape around the corner of Tuam and High streets. While anchor tenants gear up to shift in, smaller operators are rushing to book space alongside them. As a result, an estimated 1500 office workers will be in the precinct by next year.
Broadly designed as part of the city’s 2012 blueprint, the precinct is intended to be a cluster of knowledge, software, electronics and other tech-type businesses. Mixed-use zoning rules mean cultural and educational groups and restaurants and bars can join them. Public spaces and laneways created by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) will intersect the precinct, making space for work and play.
The precinct got off the drawing board when Auckland developers Studio D4 spotted land around the old Lichfield Lanes complex, signed up Kathmandu and Vodafone as tenants, and got approval for two new buildings. It then handed the project onto southern-based developer Calder Stewart. Others have followed. Christchurch developer Peebles Group took on the wrecked McKenzie and Willis building opposite and is putting up two new buildings behind its heritage facade, and renovating another on the site.
The old ANZ Chambers site on the High-Lichfield corner has just been sold for development, and a new project is understood to be proposed for the Excelsior site opposite. Hospitality businesses have also taken the leap of faith. Tenants including Brick Farm and Dux Central have joined existing operator C1 in taking space in repaired buildings, while others such as Joe’s Garage have leased space in those still under construction. CBRE leasing agent Bonnie Stone said the precinct was filling a gap in the market. Rents and operating costs were lower there than in other parts of the rebuild.
Stone said the culture was attracting ‘‘smaller less-corporate businesses, and tech businesses who want to be near the likes of Vodafone and Wynyard’’. ‘‘It’s a slightly different model to what’s being built in other parts of the city centre. With the new and refurbished old buildings and cool spaces, it’s not like where the big accountants and law firms are going. ‘‘We want everyone to come back in, not just the big tenants, to create the lively city everyone wants.’’
Fellow agent Ryan Geddes, of Savills, said the precinct had ‘‘really good legs’’. ‘‘It just took off with the commitment with the bigger firms.’’ First finished will be the Kathmandu headquarters and the carpark building, complete with art display screens, next door. Both have March completion dates. The Vodafone building and the Cera courtyard alongside it will be ready in April, and the Wynyard precinct opposite will be finished about September.
Meanwhile, the Government and Canterbury Development Corporation’s GreenHouse incubator for fledgling information tech businesses has opened, alongside hospitality places. Studio D4 has one last development planned in the block – a new office building three or four storeys high. Also going in are the Information and Communications Technology Graduate School, and government agency Callaghan Innovation.
The opening of the precinct is likely to trigger occupation of upper High St, which has stayed fenced off since the quakes. Paul Naylor, co-owner of Studio D4, said it just took a few bold businesses to encourage others to commit to space in the precinct. ‘‘I don’t think any one wanted to be there all alone in a desert. But now there’s a lot happening and it’s looking great – by next year we are going to have a prime area. ‘‘People have rushed to it, it’s fantastic.’’