Council moves to sell Athenaeum building

The Dunedin City Council is trying again to sell the Athenaeum building in the Octagon.

The 142-year-old building was yesterday advertised as being for sale by deadline private treaty by Colliers International, on behalf of the council, closing on March 6.

The move came after the council was forced to scrap a planned auction of the building in September last year, just a day before it was due to go under the hammer.

Council city property manager Robert Clark had deemed it ''surplus'' to council requirements, but the decision to sell was overruled by council chief executive Paul Orders because councillors wanted more time to ''fully consider its future''.

Mr Clark said when contacted yesterday the deadline treaty meant potential buyers would have to make an offer, including details of their plans for the building, making it a better fit with the wishes of councillors.

''It gives us the opportunity to look at those options,'' Mr Clark said.

The Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute building, near the Regent Theatre was bought by the council from the Athenaeum Society for $1.13 million in October 2007.

At the time, the council said the land could be a site for an 800-seat theatre or incorporated into a cultural sector associated with the Regent Theatre.

However, the building was instead put on the market in August last year, after Mr Clark said it was decided there were no advantages to retaining it.

The building has three tenants, two cafe-bars and the Athenaeum Society library.

It generated rental income of $63,500 a year, excluding GST, had a rateable value of $1.25 million and a land value of $980,000.

Carisbrook points of note

@russandbev: From memory, the Gv for Carisbrook was $1.5 million and the Burns st properties were purchased with the intention of demolition to make way for a new main stand. They were rented out.

The council's job is to run the city and any property interests should be limited to properties for council and public use only. Any form of property speculation with public funds is not to be entertained under any circumstances. Public money belongs to the people and you have no right to be gambling with it.



Luckily, the Athenaeum is recognised as a Category I historic place - not, I assure you, because of the stripped facade to the Octagon. Prior to council ownership, and registration by NZHPT, the building was under threat of demolition due to private sector plans for a hotel, combining its site with that of the dilapidated multi-storey building to Princes St, forming an 'L' around the former TipTop building (now Alibi) on the corner. Despite the council's thoughts to redevelop the Athenaeum site for theatre facilities, its purchase of the building has in fact indirectly managed to save it from demolition and consequent loss of significant heritage values. I note councillors have some concerns as to how the building may be redeveloped if sold. They're learning.

So, who was responsible and who is accountable?

So, the question to be answered - and maybe just maybe the ODT reporters might just sense a story here - is who was on the Property sub-committee at the time the decision was made to purchase Carisbrook for $7m, and why is it that this mysterious "valuation" has not been produced to support what clearly has been another grave error in judgement along similar lines to the Luggate and Jack's Point purchases by either the DCC or DCC owned companies.  Is there any belief out there that this mysterious valuation was nothing other than an instrument to support a decision that had already been made both in principle and in dollar amounts?

Not Rhonda either

Decisions about property sales and purchases are made by the Property Sub Committee (a properly constituted committee of Council), not individual staff members. As with most decisions of the DCC there were probably staff reports to the committee, but the decision was down to the committee

At the time there was major lobbying going on to provide an 800 seat theatre and the Ateneum building was seen as a good option.

Not Robert

In defence of Robert Clark, it was not he who purchased the Athenaeum building. It was the former Acting Property Manager, Rhonda Abercrombie who acted on behalf of City Property in purchasing the property. Robert is now stuck with the task of trying to unload various properties which probably never should have been purchased in the first place. It was a strange decision at the time when City Property already owned Regent Theatre, Fortune Theatre and the Mayfair Theatre. More than enough theatres to meet the demand of a small city one would think.

Former DCC CEO's role in stadium project

Mr Harland played a remarkably active part in the Stadium project considering his appointed role. This is quite clear from an examination of the council minutes during the long drawn-out stadium decision-making process (despite the fact that most of it was done in public-excluded meetings.)

A particularly interesting report is the one which Mr Harland made  in response to the council's request, at quite an early stage of the project, for an evalution of the advisibility of having a referendum on the project.

This report is still in the DCC archives and is extraordinarily dismissive of referendums in general and of having one in Dunedin at the time in particular.

City Property

When is this Robert Clark going to be stopped from buying and selling properties with an open cheque book of the ratepayers' money? It's a disgrace, we the ratepayers do not pay hard earned money for this, we pay for our city to be looked after by these people . . . this is not happening.


Now that we have a new businesslike chief executive at DCC, Paul Orders, perhaps he would be kind enought to update the community on matters raised by farsighted and russandbev. I'm sure he has the measure.

Carisbrook is another DCC property

Readers will probably need reminding that the DCC under Chin's leadership and a report from Jim Harland, who was the CEO, purchased Carisbrook for a total of $7m. $1m of that went to an entity called the Property Charitable Trust which the ORFU said that it really knew little about, but this Trust owned all the houses purchased by the ORFU, and $6m went for the ground and a carpark. There was a valuation that supposedly supported this purchase price which few have seen, if any, and most importantly, Harland told the Council in his report recommending purchase that the price was arrived at because the DCC "needed prime industrial land and the ORFU needed to be in a strong financial position to become an anchor tenant of the new stadium being built for them".

He further told us that the ground would be easy to sell and that is why the Council borrowed the $7m and now has paid 2 lots of interest totalling about $1m with absolutely no sign of the properties being sold. So the ground now owes the ratepayers $8m on top of the operational upkeep, loss of use of the borrowed money etc with absolutely no sign of any sale taking place.

Either Harland's report to Council was erroneous or the valuation was wildly out. Would be nice to know wouldn't it?


How's the sale and purchase agreement for Carisbrook coming along?  Was supposed to have been concluded before Xmas.

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