Project profile: Invercargill Central

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer, supplied

Invercargill’s historic CBD is undergoing its biggest revitalisation project in over a century

When completed, Invercargill Central will represent the biggest commercial revitalisation project seen in the southern city in generations

Invercargill’s historic CBD is undergoing its biggest revitalisation project in over a century. When completed towards the end of 2022, the wide-ranging Invercargill Central redevelopment will see a host of new retail, eatery, and commercial office opportunities available to Southlanders and visitors alike.

While the lion’s share of large-scale redevelopment focus in the media currently seems centred on big projects in Auckland or in lifestyle growth areas such as Tauranga or the Kapiti Coast, down in Southland, a bunch of talented people are quietly getting on with the biggest reshaping of Invercargill’s central business district since, well, possibly since the city was initially founded.

A Cat 259D skid steer with Sharp Grade hardware surveys future retail spaces along Esk Street

The need to remain sympathetic to the city’s deep heritage is but one factor of the Invercargill Central redevelopment project, which is due to be completed outright in 2022, with anchor retail tenant Farmers and associated car parking​​ likely to be operational in May 2022.

Rapid transformation

The Invercargill Central parking building has already begun to take shape

The development, which kicked off at the beginning of 2020, covers a full city block, with Esk, Tay, Dee, and Kelvin Streets making up the immense project’s worksite borders. The parameters of the site are impressive, as is the degree of technical skill that has been required to ensure new seamlessly fits in with old.

"In order to successfully transform the area, we needed to deconstruct 43 existing buildings," says Invercargill Central project manager, Hayden Rankin. "This in itself was a colossal undertaking. Many of the buildings were in poor condition and had been empty for some time, and we needed to manage the archaeological aspects of this deconstruction process in partnership with Heritage New Zealand.

"As we removed existing buildings, more than 2000 historical artefacts were found in the initial dig. We expected this level of finds though, what with the boundaries of Invercargill Central effectively overlaying the earliest commercial settlement area in the city."

Items such as bottles, jars, and decorative vessels are currently on display within the Invercargill Central public information hub. More permanent recognition of the heritage of this block will be celebrated in the form of three elaborate building facades dating from the late-19th and early-20th Centuries, which are being retained and incorporated into the new development on its Esk Street frontage.

"The facades certainly represent a challenge for us—it’s a very methodical, careful process in shoring them up in order to await the moment when they can be keyed into the new structures behind them," Hayden continues. "The weight of the facades is incredible, so we have to tread carefully. But they’re a necessary element of the overall plan, and they will help tie everything in with the wider surroundings."

The historic building facades retained within Invercargill Central are the former Southland Times building, constructed in 1909; the Coxhead building dating from 1875; and the distinct Cambridge Arcade, which was remodelled in the Art Deco style after a fire in the 1920s.

The project principals have sought to utilise local Southland tradespeople and construction experts from the outset

The Historic Place category 1 listed former Bank of New South Wales building on the corner of Dee Street—which currently houses the Invercargill Central public information hub—is also to be retained, although this sits adjacent to the new development rather than within it.

Daniel Smith Industries Ltd’s gigantic Kobelco CKE2500 crawler crane has been instrumental during Invercargill Central’s current construction phase

Invercargill Central will incorporate both a food court and boutique eateries, retail stores, including national chains and smaller owner-operated spaces, a 675-space car park and adjacent office space and apartment living. It’s expected the redevelopment will eventually bring an extra 1500 people into the CBD every day.

Boutique retailers and well-known brand stores are destined to find homes at Invercargill Central ahead of its full public opening in a year’s time

"The real driver for this project is to revitalise the centre of Invercargill to the commercial hub it has been in the past," says Invercargill Central project director, Geoff Cotton. "The so-called ‘big box’ retail model has eroded the life out of the CBD over time; this project is designed to bring people back into the central city through a mix of residential and retail development, as well as new destination locations, such as restaurants.

Retaining several facades from some of the many older buildings that once lined the project parameter is a crucial element of the project design

"Invercargill people are very proud of their city, and Invercargill Central really serves to recapture that pride within a new framework. It’s clear that in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, it’s much harder to justify the continued upkeep of some older buildings.

We have the ability to mix old and new here and have spent a lot of time ensuring the impact of the new remains in keeping with Invercargill’s heritage, which visitors to the CBD can still see for themselves at almost every turn."

Flow-on effects

More than simply reshaping the skyline, Geoff says the Invercargill Central project also represents the opportunity for positive flow-on economic effects for the city as well, with a projected labour spend of $60 million and between 250 and 300 new jobs required during the build phase.

Once completed, Invercargill Central is expected to attract more visitors into the city, allow them to stay and explore for longer periods of time, and also increase spending and investment potential among locals.

And keeping it local is another consideration for the project team. "We have a lot of construction talent right here in Southland, so wherever possible, we look to utilise local service people. Some elements of the build process, such as the precast concrete attributes, need to be transported in, as we don’t have this facility within Invercargill. But where our tradespeople and sub-contracted expertise is concerned, we will always look to local supply," says Geoff.

With the Invercargill Central project now having gone vertical and the columns for the car parking building providing a prominent signpost for progress above ground, the site will begin to transform rapidly over the months ahead. "The city needs this element of revitalisation," concludes Hayden. "It’s very rewarding both personally and professionally to be right at the centre of it."

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