WorkSafe picks warehouse

Building owner Lawrie Forbes with plans for the upgrade of the John Colours Ltd building in...
Building owner Lawrie Forbes with plans for the upgrade of the John Colours Ltd building in Crawford St, which will be the new home of WorkSafe. PHOTOS: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The John Colours building.
The John Colours building.
Some of the renovation plans.
Some of the renovation plans.
Examples of graffiti in the building.
Examples of graffiti in the building.

A Dunedin warehouse precinct building has attracted WorkSafe New Zealand as an anchor tenant in what its owner says is a reintroduction of government offices in the area.

Heritage developer Lawrie Forbes said Worksafe had agreed to move into the top floor of the John Colours Ltd building in Crawford St and were keen to be in ``a funky old building''.

A WorkSafe spokesman said one reason for the move was to allow for potential growth.

Mr Forbes showed the Otago Daily Times around the building, which is in for some major refurbishment, and said initially he did not want to buy it.

However, it shared a driveway with the building he owned next door, and ``the fear of ending up with someone that wasn't going to do anything with the building really worried me''.

He spoke to the owner, who was planning to put the building on the market, met with him, came to a decision on the figure and shook hands on a deal, despite some trepidation at the sense of doing so.

Mr Forbes said having bought the building at the beginning of last year, his initial idea for redevelopment was apartments - ``but WorkSafe actually approached me''.

``They actually want to be in a funky old building. A government tenant is a very secure tenant, and it shows the Government is showing faith in private building owners to refurbish premises for them to inhabit.''

The tenancy was also good for the wider precinct, as it was reintroducing government offices to an area they previously inhabited. WorkSafe would move there after extensive strengthening and earthquake-proofing.

A WorkSafe spokesman said the organisation began looking for a new building as its lease was due to expire, and its offices in Norwich House in Princes St did not meet its needs for the future.

``As part of our search for a new building, we were introduced to Lawrie Forbes, who put together a proposal with plans specifically tailored to WorkSafe.''

WorkSafe was impressed with Mr Forbes' ability to retain and highlight heritage elements.

``We understand that work has begun on the site and expect to occupy the premises in early to mid-2018.

Mr Forbes said the two-storey building included historic features that would be preserved, including graffiti on columns in what will be the WorkSafe office, written from as early as 1893.

WorkSafe will inhabit the top floor of the building, and Mr Forbes said he was looking for a tenant for the first floor. The ground floor would provide parking for 12 vehicles.

A report to the Dunedin City Council on rates relief applicants last year said the work would contribute ``strongly'' to heritage protection.

The report said if Mr Forbes had not bought the building and done stabilisation work ``it likely would have been assessed as dangerous and at a high risk of demolition''.

Mr Forbes said he received $6500 rates relief from the council.

That investment was ``shrewd'' from the council's point of view, as the rates would increase once it was redeveloped.

Mr Forbes said he was the first, or one of the first, to have a geotechnical investigation of a warehouse precinct site.

The results showed the area was ``fine''.

A hole was bored 17.5m under the building, at which point it found rock.

``All the way down the ground was getting more and more solid.''

The earth was sedimentary, not sand, with layers created from the outflow of the Toitu stream.

Mr Forbes said he expected that situation underground across the heritage precinct.

``See, no-one knew that; everyone has just been doing leaps of faith.''

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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