Business suits and bean bags: reworking Auckland's Britomart Precinct
Office workers lounging on bean bags on a lawn in downtown Auckland is a scene you would not have seen a year ago.
But when the sun shines in the Britomart Precinct, the lawn of its Takutai Square becomes an outdoor common room for its new corporate population of 5000.
The leisurely scene suggests the ease with which Britomart’s trove of specialist stores and office workers have made themselves at home among the heritage and modern buildings which were just years ago derelict.
But a hard-working team at Britomart developer and manager Cooper and Company has worked with intent and patience over eight years to create the lively shopping, entertainment and business hub.
Development companies often have a bad rap, yet the progressive occupation of the Britomart Precinct is a mark of success for the private investment company of California-based Kiwi developer Peter Cooper.
Corporate revellers in the sun
When the sun and the bean bags are out, Cooper and Company marketing manager Sarah Hull says her Quay St office view of corporate revellers enjoying the precinct draws a smile.
“It’s just nice to see people in their corporate attire, often with their shoes off, enjoying the environment and the fresh air, away from the air-conditioning,” Miss Hull says.
“A lot of informal meetings take place there, too … it’s a bit like it felt when you were kids at school and working outside the classroom always felt exciting.”
Patch of run-down buildings
Coming up eight years at Cooper and Company, Miss Hull was part of the original team selling the concept of a revitalised Britomart Precinct off the plans when it was still just a patch of run-down buildings.
The precinct now has a roll call of 34 retailers, 23 food and beverage outlets and four service businesses – Les Mills, Ryder Salon, OFF Wax and Peak Pilates.
“Initially, we were leasing and marketing off our passion and presentations. Now we can do it by pointing out the window,” says Miss Hull, who previously worked for Viaduct Holdings.
The first to buy into the vision for Britomart’s revitalisation was Mac’s brew bar Northern Steamship, whose Pack Group owners have since opened Shaky Isles café in the precinct and Everybody’s Bar and Bistro across the road in Fort Lane.
Soon after, bars Racket and Agents and Merchants opened by the Britomart Hospitality Company, which also owns the 1885 and Britomart Country Club bars.
“We incubated a number of one off stores and creative tenants to set the tone for the type of people we wanted as tenants and to use the precinct,” Miss Hull says.
Avoiding temptation to simply fill the spaces and start collecting rent, the Cooper’s team bided their time.
“We knew it was a long-term game so it was about sticking to our vision.”
'Hit list' of tenants
Although there was once a "hit list" of tenants they wanted to court, Cooper and Company now has retailers knocking on its doors.
The landlords remain selective about the tenants they take on.
You won’t see a Glassons open its doors, but perhaps there could be a Country Rd, she says.
She describes the Britomart "fit" as quality products and exclusive offerings. “They are often concept stores or the only New Zealand store for its brand.”
Rather than a Paper Plus, the nine-storey glass-covered Atrium on Takutai shopping gallery houses Scandinavian designer stationer Kikki K.
And when iconic Italian design house Seletti opens its flagship store on Tyler St in December, it will be one of just two of its kind worldwide. Its homeware products will be exclusive to Seletti Boutique for six months before they become available elsewhere in New Zealand.
Cooper and Company’s tenants like the fact the landlords have a holistic approach to marketing Britomart, including a co-ordinated event programme, and take care of all the core services such as security, cleaning and car parking services, Miss Hull says.
Many have taken up multi leases: Nike and Co-Lab are owned by the same company, as are Café Hanoi and XuXu and Tyler St’s three-in-a-row Precinct Cafe, Tyler St Garage and Ebisu.
Luring the heavyweight fashion houses
Luring heavyweight fashion brands from High St was a big coup which has helped make the precinct one of most exclusive shopping destinations.
Zambesi, World and Kate Sylvester all relocated to Britomart from High St, and can now be found in the ground floor of the 1970s Seafarers Building on Tyler St.
All three say the 1250-space Britomart car park, including its valet parking service, was a key factor in their relocation to the precinct, believing the luxury, convenience and service offered by valet parking will make the shopping experience even more attractive for their customers.
World co-founder and director Francis Hooper says he relocated its Auckland city store to Britomart because he thought the precinct represented the future of boutique shopping in the city.
“World has always been a brand that looks forward and we believe the future of high fashion retail lies in the historic Britomart Precinct,” he says.
“World is a luxury fashion brand and it’s imperative that we’re among like-minded brands and business owners who understand the concept of boutique retail shopping.”
Zambesi co-owner Neville Findlay says the excitement of developing something special for Auckland was the appeal for its move to the precinct.
“The building itself offers a lot of inspiration – its history, the lovely stud height, lots of concrete, the outlook on to the water. And I like the proportions of Tyler St – it has the opportunity to become a compelling and intimate street.”
Designer Kate Sylvester says her company was drawn to Cooper and Company’s long-term vision for Britomart.
“Peter Cooper’s design and vision for the community is world class, and we’re proud to be one of the first New Zealand designers to open our flagship store here,” she says. “This is just the beginning, too – there’s so much potential here for New Zealand retail.”
On the way: ‘The Pavilions’
Construction has begun in the central spaces of the precinct on a new garden-themed retail complex, soon to be home to some of the top names in New Zealand fashion.
‘The Pavilions’ will feature eight boutiques clustered around a leafy courtyard restaurant space in the block bounded by Commerce, Tyler and Gore Streets.
The development will house new flagship stores for Karen Walker and Trelise Cooper, and boutiques for Juliette Hogan, Taylor, Ashley Ardrey, Kathryn Wilson and Trelise Cooper Boardroom.
Also in the complex will be the first Australasian store for American cosmetics brand Bobbi Brown.
The bistro-café at the heart of the development will be run by restaurateurs Scott Brown and Jackie Grant, whose Hip Group of establishments includes Richmond Rd Café, Café on Kohi, Takapuna Beach Café and Rosehip Café in Parnell.
Hip Group will also operate a dessert restaurant and patisserie at the back of the development, opening out on to Tyler St.
The Pavilions was designed by Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects, whose Britomart credentials include the interiors of Café Hanoi, 1885 Britomart, The Britomart Country Club and Mexico. Mr Cheshire was also responsible for the ground-floor development of the Seafarers Building.
Mysterious hoardings in the middle of Atrium on Takutai came down this week, revealing yoghurt merchants White’s and Co, serving the premium yoghurt brand of "no bull" dairy brand The Collective.
The soft-serve yoghurts, toppings, smoothies, breakfast granola and coffee is likely to be a new appeal for the area’s office workers.
Cooper and Company’s long-term development of the Britomart precinct will include the construction of seven new buildings and the eventual refurbishment of all 18 of the precinct’s heritage buildings.
Half of them have been fully refurbished, with the remainder partially refurbished for interim commercial and retail uses.
On completion it will be the largest heritage restoration project ever undertaken in New Zealand.
And it is ultimately the vision of Cooper and Company founder Peter Cooper, who got started with the refurbishments in 2004.
Bluestone pavers across Takutai Square are an example of Mr Cooper’s high standards and no-expense-spared approach to developing.
Although based in California, he returns home about once a month and is often seen in the various Britomart bars when he is here.
Valued at $650 million on the NBR Rich List, Mr Cooper is a qualified lawyer and former director of Lion Nathan. His other business interests include property in the Bay of Islands and a partnership in a sport fishing charter vessel.
The Cooper and Company teams say Mr Cooper continues to be very involved in the Britomart project, working with the executive team on strategic direction and offering international ideas from his travel and experiences overseas.
Mr Cooper’s Southlake Town Centre residential and retail development in Fort Worth has been held out as an example of successful urban development.
More construction on the way
To date, three new buildings have been completed in the Britomart precinct: the 10-storey Westpac on Takutai Square-Ernst & Young building, which alone houses 2100 staff, the Charter Customs Building on Customs St East and the Britomart Car Park Building on Quay St.
A new office tower will be built on the corner of Quay and Tyler streets, eyeballing the Ernst & Young building. Construction is still about five years off, and Cooper and Company is looking for a new, major commercial tenant.
More office space will soon be made available in a refurbished building on Commerce St soon, expected to suit boutique law firm-type tenants.