The Eye of the Fish

November 19, 2010

Chow leaves bad taste

So, Auckland awoke to the news that a “historic building” had been knocked down last night, in possibly the dodgiest piece of developer dealings seen since the 1980s (outside of Christchurch of course). The 124 year old Palace building “had to” be knocked down due to a structural instability it had developed “overnight” as it was being turned into a “brothel”. As usual with the Chow brothers, this decision reeks of lies, deception, and plain old outright breaking the law. You may be able to find dodger developers in New Zealand, but if so, I haven’t met them yet.

The Chows are of course the idiotic duo that chopped down a listed heritage tree in Tory St a couple of years ago, and argued their way out of a $200,000 potential fine and 3 months jail, to a much less severe slap on the wrist of a $2000 fine for destroying one of Wellington’s most beautiful trees.

Let’s hope that the Auckland Council don’t have the wool pulled over their eyes by this duo, and that they have whole rule book thrown at them, complete with fine and jail term this time.

Of course, that’s assuming that the Auckland Council is really regretting this demolition, and isn’t just crying big Brown crocodile tears over this. Auckland has a terrible record of demolishing anything vaguely heritagy, with the classic case being the demo of His Majesty’s Theatre on New Years Eve in the 1980s, when, oh, so sorry, the Council Office was closed at the time. Mayor at the time? Cath Tizard, later to be crowned as Governor General, and implicit in all it’s dodgyness.
Such a thing would never happen here now, would it?

Post-script 10 Dec 2010: Oh no, such dodgyness does exist here after all. As Scoop reports, last night a special thank you party was given for out-going Mayor Kerry Prendergast, featuring her lovely husband Rex Nichols, and many other property developers – including the not so lovely Chow brothers. New Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, presumably was not invited.

Lindsay Shelton at Scoop notes comments from the Fish, and puts it succinctly that: “On another page of the same issue, the DomPost reports that the two brothel-owning brothers were among 400 invited guests at this week’s gourmet dinner in honour of Kerry Prendergast. It was held in the St James Theatre, next door to the Chow’s Splash Club which offers girls for $175 (cash) for 30 minutes. If an unknowing citizen wonders why the owners of a brothel would be invited to a dinner honouring a former Wellington mayor (where the Prime Minister was also a guest), the answer may be that Michael and John Chow are not only prominent in the sex industry. They have also become successful as property developers.”

19 - 11 - 10

The Palace Hotel was bought this year for $3.3 million by Wellington sex industry leaders John and Michael Chow, who planned to create an upmarket brothel, taking advantage of the building’s proximity to the SkyCity Casino.

Last night, Michael Chow said he had not been consulted about the demolition.

“They were not listening to my concerns. I approached the council chief executive and he just turned and walked away.

“I have a second opinion coming up from Wellington tomorrow, but they would not give me the time to do that.

“We’re especially gutted the building is going, especially with the 120 year-history of the building.”

19 - 11 - 10

So, comment there from the Herald. The Chows are innocent? You really believe that? I find it hard to believe them. They said the same thing when they ordered the destruction of the tree in Wellington – ” we didn’t know it was heritage” and “we just wanted to give it a trim” and then they slaughtered it. Much the same as they have done with this building.

Bawdy House
19 - 11 - 10

While I wouldn’t trust those particular developers as far as I could throw them, in this case I tend to suspect incompetence rather than malice. If I read the news correctly, it would seem that the building was undergoing strengthening work and had a very lucrative use planned for it. It would seem very odd to go to all that expense, just to surreptitiously knock it down.

It may be that the builders discovered some nasty surprises part way through that would have escalated the cost, and that the owners then decided to bringh it down, but otherwise it seems more likely to be due to bad engineering or some previously unknown subsurface instability. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to be proved wrong, though.

19 - 11 - 10

If there is one thing that the Canterbury Earthquake has shown us, it is the way to use dodgy engineering reports to justify demolition of heritage buildings. It may well be that these 3 engineers reports were not dodgy, but if the builders had been following proper proceedures, the site engineer would have worked a remedial solution way before demo was necessary.

If you just simply ask to demolish a heritage building, the answer will always be No. Subterfuge is needed to knock them down.

19 - 11 - 10

Another (in)famous Auckland demolition job was the stamping out of Browns Mill, home of the flourishing Browns Mill Market. Demolition crews went in there at night, and demolished it with the stock still on the shelves and the water still on. Despite a full heritage listing. Come Monday morning, site ready for a multi million $ high rise. A year later, site still empty as developer had gone bust. Makes the Chows look like delicate innocents by comparison.

And then there was Partingtons Wind Mill, that would have been an Auckland landmark, but was knocked down in the 60s due to malign neglect. replaced by one of the ugliest buildings in Auckland, although it has some fairly stiff opposition there. The thing is, Auckland has always been a brash growth city without a care in the world for heritage. They’re not looking back, they’re looking forward. But just sometimes, they should look sideways as well.

Can’t be arsed
19 - 11 - 10

I think I would agree with the person from the Bawdy House, that it is not that likely to be deliberate, but just a lack of caring. In particular, it’s a graphic reminder of just how pathetically unstable ye olde bricks and mortar “unreinforced masonry” is. Give it the slightest shake and it’s a gonner. Another good wake up call for Wellington to do something about it’s unreinforced heritage brickwork, before it’s all gone.

20 - 11 - 10

Heritage is a contentious issue, especially in NZ where our cities are relatively young yet were not planned for large scale growth and without regard to earthquakes.

My personal belief is that while it’s very important to remember where we came from it is where we are going that will continue to define us as a nation. So how do we go about preserving our history while making way for the new without resorting to facadism? Heritage conservation is all very well but how about heritage incorporation?

This is where we could shine as a nation on the international architectural stage. We are a nation of innovative problem solvers with a unique perspective that arises in part from our physical isolation. I believe that with a little more care and good will, with a broader outlook and less selfish, small-minded behaviour, we could come up with amazing designs. Designs that incorporate heritage into our modern architecture and thus give it a new breath of life.

John H
22 - 11 - 10

This discussion brings back memories of the late-night commencement of the demolition of Wellington’s Broadcasting House (A NZHPT Grade-1 listed building) by the National Government in 1997. Power was still on in the building, the place was packed with asbestos (its removal before any demolition began was a condition of the demolition consent), the Parliamentary OSH office refused to get involved and it was only when Council staff intervened that demolition ceases at around midnight. Several weeks later with power completely cut, the building secured and under the control of Parliamentary security guards, it mysteriously catches alight during the middle of the night and burns for three days after the fire service refuse to put it out (“too dangerous”). Asbestos fibres and dioxin from burning PCB’s in electrical fittings and transformers are driven into the surrounding area by the fire and are sucked into the air conditioning systems of the neighbouring office buildings to be liberally pumped throughout them. The Council declines to prosecute.
Take a bow Teflon-Don Mckinnon…

23 - 11 - 10

…and if I were the Chows I’d be suing the fish for defamation.

23 - 11 - 10

Jason – you’re being overly sensitive.

Were you in Wellington when they chopped down the tree, that had a Heritage tree protection order on it? On their property? Registered to their title? When people stopped the workmen cutting it down, who then rang the police, and yet still the tree was butchered? Thats definitely what I would call “lies, deception, and plain old outright breaking the law”. They should have been sent to prison for that, as the law allows. But a smarmy lawyer, and a weak minded judge who was swayed by dubious arguments….

All developers are, to a degree, a little bit dodgy – they have to be, to make a buck. Haven’t met one who is not, yet.

23 - 11 - 10

I’m sure they would have bigger fish to fry…

29 - 11 - 10
Brothel bros’ empire worth $100m
Wellington brothers celebrate 11 years
GREG NINNESS – Sunday Star Times 28/11/2010

When Wellington brothel owners John and Michael Chow gather with a few dozen friends and business associates to celebrate Chow Group’s 11th year in business on Tuesday night, a cloud of uncertainty will hang over the proceedings. One of the highlights of the affair was to have been the company’s plan to expand into the potentially lucrative Auckland market, where it was extensively renovating the historic Palace Hotel (formerly the Aurora) to turn it into an upmarket gentlemen’s club, the industry euphemism for a brothel. Located across the road from SkyCity Casino, the Palace was perfectly positioned to cater to free-spending men willing to pay for sexual entertainment. But those plans literally came crashing down when the building began to shift on its foundations and the council ordered its demolition over fears for public safety.

Most of central Auckland’s red light venues are clustered around Fort St, a few blocks further downtown, and the Chow brothers’ plans to bring organised prostitution into the mainstream entertainment district near the casino had upset some business owners and residents in the area. However, the Chow brothers’ choice of the Palace site to launch their entry into the Auckland market was probably based on a similar strategy they used successfully in Wellington, where they are the leading players in the capital’s adult entertainment industry. They had been quick to realise the business opportunities that became available when prostitution was legalised in 2003, opening Wellington’s first legal brothel, Il Bordello, on the city’s traditional red-light strip, Vivian St. Their next venture, the Mermaid strip club and its associated facility, the Splash Club, were more controversial because they were located in the centre of Courtenay Place, the hub of Wellington’s mainstream nightlife.

The Chows successfully resisted attempts by the council to curtail those businesses and would have benefited handsomely when planning changes were introduced to prevent similar types of operations opening up in the area. The plan in Auckland appeared to be along similar lines – get established on a prime spot while planning rules allow it, then rake in the cash once the rules are changed to prevent any competitors setting up nearby. And the cash-generating potential of the adult entertainment business should not be underestimated. Michael Chow said his Wellington brothels had not been affected by the recession. So when Chow Group purchased the Palace Hotel property at a mortgagee sale for $3.3 million in 2008, there was no bank involved, and the property remains mortgage-free, suggesting they were funding the purchase and subsequent renovations from private sources. Chow Group also owns the buildings that house Il Bordello and the Mermaid and Splash Club, and these are also mortgage-free. The Mermaid and Splash Club property has a rating valuation of $3.5m and the Il Bordello property has a rating valuation of $1.5m.

However, Michael Chow said those arrangements did not indicate a lack of willingness by the banks to fund adult entertainment businesses, but reflected the Chows’ own preference to keep their smaller properties debt-free. And the banks have certainly been willing to fund the Chows’ other business ventures. Although the public spotlight has usually fallen on their adult entertainment activities, that is a relatively small part of their business empire. The Chows’ primary focus is property investment and through various holding companies they own a portfolio of six commercial buildings in Wellington, as well as the premises of their strip club and brothels.The six commercial buildings are all mortgaged to either ANZ or BNZ, securing interest-only loans, a common practice in property investment circles.

The ANZ mortgage, which was put in place at the beginning of October, is secured over the Chows’ biggest asset, a nine-level office and retail complex on Courtenay Place. Collectively, the entire portfolio of six commercial buildings and the three adult entertainment venues have rating valuations totalling $50m, although Michael Chow said the market value of the properties was closer to $100m. The Chows also own Wellington’s largest gym, the Exodus Health & Fitness Club, also located in one of their buildings. That’s not bad for a couple of boys who migrated here from Hong Kong with their parents in 1984.

The Chow family settled in the working-class Wellington suburb of Naenae and the boys began a long association with the Te Aro area on the edge of Wellington’s CBD when their parents opened a takeaway bar on Courtenay Place. The boys took over the business in 1997 and they were eventually able to buy the premises, setting them down the property investment path. Although they tend to be long-term investors, the have also sold off a few of their properties over the years. The biggest of these was a hotel they developed on Willis St in central Wellington, although liquidation of the hotel’s holding company has been held up by a claim from a creditor – a former employee who was awarded $119,000 by the Employment Court. It appears unlikely that the debt will be paid. The liquidator’s report said the company had no realisable assets, although an investigation was under way into the disposal of assets to determine “whether there are any avenues of recovery for creditors”.

Looking forward, the brothers are still very focussed on expanding their business interests and hope to eventually have a property portfolio worth more than $500m. However, the loss of the Palace has thrown a spanner in the works, at least temporarily. Michael Chow is bitter about the way the Auckland Council handled the demolition and said his lawyers had issued trespass notices against the council and its contractors to stop them entering the site. He said he had not seen an initial report the council had obtained about the likely cause of the problems that led to The Palace being demolished, although he hoped to have a copy by tomorrow.

“We need to know who is controlling that site at the moment and I need to understand what’s happening to my land,” he said.

However, the Chow Group may still expand into the Auckland market, possibly in association with overseas investors. When asked if the company would look at investing in Auckland properties, even if the brothel didn’t go ahead, Michael Chow replied: “We’d consider it. Not just me, we have a lot of business friends in Asia.”

2 - 12 - 10

The story grows even more interesting. Have the Chows been maligned? Read on – there is certainly something VERY fishy going on in AKL…

Wellington’s millionaire brothel-owning Chow brothers have been served a warrant giving the Auckland City Council the right to remove rubble left behind from the demolished Aurora Tavern. Michael and John Chow have used their cars – one a BMW – in a bid to stop contractors removing material from the site of what was to have been a brothel targeting Rugby World Cup tourists. The hotel, opposite the Sky Tower, was undergoing conversion into a brothel when cracks appeared in it last month and the Auckland City Council ordered immediate demolition.

The council and Ward Demolition moved onto the site yesterday to remove the rubble, but the Chow brothers are on the site in downtown Auckland as a stand-off develops, watched by a growing media contingent. The Chows earlier served a trespass notice on the contractors and the council. The police made a brief appearance at the scene late this morning but left, pending the arrival of lawyers from both sides.

“I am going to stand here until they leave,” Michael Chow said today.

He demanded that Auckland Mayor Len Brown or chief executive Doug McKay come to the Federal Street building and discuss what is going on.

“This is our property, our land, our asset.”

Stuff understands that the council claims the site should be cleared quickly in the interests of public safety and health. The bricks used to build the original hotel have been the source of dispute. The Auckland Heritage Protection Trust has been at the site monitoring the removal of rubble, watching for anything that would constituting heritage bricks.

2 - 12 - 10

“watching for anything that would constituting heritage bricks.”

you have got to be ——- kidding.

Seamonkey Madness
3 - 12 - 10

They should be thanking their lucky stars they weren’t watching out for heritage windows (although to be fair they had probably been shattered already anyway!).

6 - 12 - 10

Dodgy, dodgy, dodgy purveyors of sleeze and exploiters of women. If only all their brothels and strip clubs would be swallowed up. I feel sick just looking at the fat sleeze balls.

6 - 12 - 10

Could the Chow brothers be planning a 18 storey high brothel for their next venture? To be honest – I totally doubt that Wellington has either enough hookers, or enough sad and lonely menfolk to even think it might be true – but apparently they are stitching up a deal to buy up the old Westpac tower in central Wellington.

“Real estate sources say the brothers have signed up to buy the Westpac Bank building in Lambton Quay for $26 million. Although the deal is still conditional, they told guests about it at a Christmas function last week. John Chow has confirmed the building was under contract and said they intended to make a statement this week. The sale price was confidential. It is the biggest property buy for the brothers, who have built up a property portfolio in Wellington in addition to their brothel and adult entertainment business.”

9 - 12 - 10

And an interlude on the subject from the queen of Opinions: Rosemary McLeod.

Clark’s legacy – brothels on the golden mile
ROSEMARY MCLEOD – The Dominion Post 09/12/2010

OPINION: Call me a prude. I can live with that. But what I can’t live comfortably with is brothels and strip clubs on the main streets of my city. This is Wellington, not Bangkok, with its in-your-face sex trade. Not yet.

Prostitution – and brothels – may have been illegal before, but at least they were decorous. It wasn’t hard to find them if you wanted to, but there were no flashing lights and there was no main street presence, nor did the police seem to get agitated about them. I’d have let sleeping dogs lie.

You don’t need obvious brothels staring at you when you’re shopping or eating – unless the sex trade is truly on a par with selling house paint, or being a waitress, and you’d happily suggest your son or daughter go in for it. You might do that, but I wouldn’t.

There was a fuss after the law change, when the Chow family opened their strip club, The Mermaid, and associated brothel in Courtenay Place. One rival strip club owner threw a hissy fit: he’d restricted his business to the traditional area only to watch the opposition score this pre-emptive coup.

Why bother with being discreet now? Young women hustle out the front of The Mermaid of an evening, selling the attractions within. It’s our little patch of Sydney’s Kings Cross, only Kings Cross is one destination among many in a large city, while this outfit is right on the main drag – if you’ll pardon the expression – in this small city, and the girls look younger than their jaded Kings Cross counterparts, who have glazed eyes and needle marks. They’re fresher flesh.

Now the Chow brothers are reportedly about to sign up on a Lambton Quay property. They had bad luck with the landmark hotel in Auckland they bought for a brothel previously, and which had to be demolished last month in the midst of renovations, but they said they would build a new one on the site anyway.

Now they’ll have plans for the Westpac bank building. I’d like to think they’ll continue to run it as a low-key part of their collective investments, but it’s quite likely there’s nothing to stop them tucking in another brothel on the Golden Mile, the city’s premium shopping – and rental – zone. Premium whores, premium handbags, same diff.

MAYBE they could work a deal with Kirks, the quality department store along the road. And maybe that would be jake with everyone, but not with me.

There will always be prostitutes, as long as there are men who enjoy renting bodies, but I do question why we made it legal for kids as young as 18 to join up. These days you’re a school leaver at 18, not yet independent, still making teenage choices. The big lie we tell these kids now – through the law – is that being a hooker is as valid as any other trade. What a cynical belief that is, and how untrue.

The money allegedly made from prostitution – I don’t believe the advertising – makes it look enticing to kids who don’t really believe they’ll ever get older, or change, or have regrets, and who are young enough to think it’s sophisticated.

That’s all the more likely when they come from homes with uncaring parents; if they have been sexually abused; or if they have a drug problem. There are always plenty of adults to encourage them; young flesh is profitable.

Gangs, family violence and bullying are this country’s biggest problems, according to a Save the Children report to the United Nations. (Save the Children asked 199 children aged six to 17 to list their concerns.) Note that 17-year-olds are still considered children by the UN.

So what magically happens to make it OK to sell their bodies just a year later? Or is this that much-vaunted thing, the open market, seen in action? » The ex-mayor, the brothel-owning brothers, and the Prime Minister
9 - 12 - 10

[…] blogger Maximus is an observer who is critical of the Chows. He recalls that they are the duo who chopped down a listed heritage tree in Tory Street and argued […]