The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
March 15, 2013

Countdown to Countdown

Just what we need – another supermarket. No doubt that is the cry echoing around the hills and valleys of Wellington, as we are faced with the news of yet another supermarket being foisted on our city, in the name of “competition”. Yes, the long empty site behind the increasingly dog-eared Reading cinema (which I like to think of as the “Cinema of Unease” due to their awkwardly uncomfortable seating) is apparently proposed as the landing strip for a Countdown supermarket. That’s right – the high-profile site directly opposite Te Papa, our nation’s finest civic building (don’t laugh), is to have a large shed plonked on it.

Something doesn’t quite seem right to me there. Yes, I know it is then in prime position to counter the central city stranglehold by the Chaffers New World, but is anyone really crying out for this? Isn’t there already one just gone up in Newtown? And isn’t there another supermarket being planned for the Basin Reserve? (Not planned for right in the middle, but may as well be, now that the Basin is to be fucked over by a bridge across it). Does anyone really think that we need this particular Countdown right here on the waterfront? Is there not a better use of of our scarce waterfront land for something that people actually want?

What people DO seem to want, is a fantastic market, not a supermarket. Just over the road and down a bit, is the phenomenally successful Chaffers / Waitangi Park Sunday market, which has just been bustling like a mad thing this summer. Masses and masses of happy shopping people, buying fresh fruit and veges and having a good old time trying some top notch ethniccy foods, communing with the ducks in the former graving dock – its just a lovely, joy filled experience, and a great setting, next to the park and the sea. Wraight Athfield’s design for the Waitangi Park has proved to be a fantastic ly flexible winning space for Wellingtonians, and the boring carpark site springs to life once a week. But I hear no one clamouring for another supermarket, right on our front doorstep.
Postscript: Fantastically rendered scheme attached as image. My photoshop skills are improving! (subject to debate…)

starkive
15 - 03 - 13

Don’t forget the New World Metro scheduled for Ghuznee, the Z gas station about to open in Vivian and a brand-new car-yard on Taranaki. The suburbanising of the inner city seems to be proceeding apace…

Andrew
15 - 03 - 13

A Z gas station replacing a long defunct Shell, a supermarket replacing a car park. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Surely this is just a consequence of the increasing number of people living in the city and judging by all the new apartment blocks going up there’ll be a lot more of them soon. There’ll also be more bars, restaurants, life. I’m hoping most of the traffic to the new Countdown will be foot traffic – where do all the people that drive to New World come from? I doubt this will have a negative effect on the weekend markets.

starkive
16 - 03 - 13

A bit disingenuous perhaps.

The car park in Ghuznee only appeared because of the demolition of a three-storey building which went from being touted as the streetfront of the supermarket (according to the promo billboard) to a quickie knock-down. The Shell station was a long time closed and I never heard of anybody running out of gas because of the need to drive to Taranaki St. I would have thought that if increased inner city population leads to a demand for more petrol, something isn’t quite right.

Guy
16 - 03 - 13

What is really sad about the new Z gas station on Vivian, is that it negates all the work done by students into looking at alternative uses for this site. The last few years at Vic have seen a blossoming of some really interesting schemes threading through from Left Bank to Ghuznee to Garret to Vivian, all adding into the Cuba St vibe (making Cuba more of a District, rather than just a single street). Making use of the backs of buildings, which in some cases are infinitely more interesting than the front of buildings.
All of this is, at a stroke, undone by the boring plonking of a traditional, standalone, solitary white floating roof of a petrol station, whether it is kiwi-owned or not, it still has a deadening effect on the area. More economic activity than an empty shingle site, to be sure, but petrol station activity is never that amenable to pedestrian activity. Sure, they will sell a few loafs of bread and lots of chocolate and V to the neighbouring students, but it is just sad, sad, sad. Not a good move.

Maximus
16 - 03 - 13

Andrew, “a supermarket replacing a carpark. I don’t see this as a bad thing.” Yes, but it’s hardly an inspiring move either, is it? Here we are with the capital city’s most major urban entry, opposite our national museum, in the most burgeoning and exciting part of town, and all we can think to come up with is a (probably one-storey high) supermarket?! Surely to God we can be better than that.

The Reading site is a major link through to Courtney Central and Courtenay Place, full of nightlife and all the good and bad that comes with that. It links the cultural hub (Te Papa) and the social hub, via the entertainment hub. It has great connections, into the existing ugly monster carpark on Tory (it will be interesting to see if Countdown decide to dig down for an underground carpark, or if the proximity to the existing neighbouring park is ok).

While I’m glad it is not just another 9 storey high apartment building for rich people, I think that a multi-function building incorporating a number of things might be a good use here. How about shops or a gallery on the road frontage, parking below, supermarket largely behind, some more cinemas on top (Anjelika cinema anyone?), and an apartment building in there for good measure?

Inner city suburbanite
17 - 03 - 13

Totally agreed that it’s uninspiring, but I still think it’s much better than the current carpark. Wellurban did a take on this stretch of road ( http://wellurban.blogspot.co.nz/2006/06/silver-mile.html ) – not much has changed here in 6 years, though I do prefer the apartments with groud floor retail more than the side of the old Warehouse.

Maximus
17 - 03 - 13

Inner City – I can’t bring myself to call you a Suburbanite, as you’re clearly not. Thanks for the link to that WellUrban post – I knew I’d read that post by Tom many moons ago, but can’t quite believe it was 2006. He noted that:

“This block is crucial, since there is great potential for development and the result could either make or break Wakefield St as a pedestrian environment. It’s currently blighted by service stations and open-air car yards, with SUVs and Hummers insulting the very concept of a human-scaled inner city. There’s been no news for a couple of years about Reading’s plan to build a five-screen art-house cinema complex (a branch of the Angelika Film Centre chain) and retail centre here. If done well, that could create an active edge to Wakefield St and provide a better link through to Courtenay Place, but given the example of Courtenay Central, I wouldn’t be too confident about the results.”

And so nothing much has changed (with the massive exception of the two new Stratum apartment buildings on the site of the old red shed – I had almost forgotten about that). The area is still blighted by service stations and car yards ( both now derelict) and continues to insult the human scale of the inner city. Yes, a supermarket will be better than nothing, in terms of – at least it is a building, and at least it is competition for New World. But it’s a bare pass, not an A+ result for the city. “Must try harder” as my teachers used to say….

Maximus
17 - 03 - 13

Starkive – I see they have at last started to do something on the Ghuznee St supermarket site – by taking away the sales shed for the proposed Metropol apartments. Probably just to make more car-parking in the meantime. I have no idea why they are waiting so long to start, or even what their proposed building will work on that tiny site. Do you have any clues? I’m presuming no carparks for a start. But also presuming that there is possibly something built above – it would be a shame to just have one floor of retail and that’s it. A very sunny, central, vibrant spot – deserves more!

andy foster
17 - 03 - 13

Hi Maximus – when I saw this my first reaction was to ask the planners in Council whether Countdown are thinking about using the airspace/ doing something more mixed use – I confess I did ask about apartments – but the key point is that if they can get good streetscape design, ideally some small shops integrated into it and apartments etc involved then could we have a good outcome ?

My concern is that it seems to be very hard to get retail developments to integrate apartments (perhaps the concern is about future redevelopment then being very difficult ?), but on the plus side I had heard whispers that New World were concerned that just having a supermarket on all that valuable land was suboptimal.

Thoughts definitely appreciated.

Warmest regards as always

Andy Foster
City Councillor

Maximus
17 - 03 - 13

Andy – you have hit on one of the key issues to NZ urbanity – the fear of restricting future development. It is used time and time again – and to a detrimental effect on our cities, I would argue. But, yes, it is a real fear. The end result of selling off unit-titled apartments to a development effectively puts a halt on the future changes available to that site. If you wanted in the future to raise the height from 4 stories to 9 stories, you would effectively need to buy out at least 75% of the units or more.

An answer would of course be a leasehold apartment building – 99 year leases are common in New York (where there are apartments above everything) and 999 year leases are still quite common in London (where everything is in terrace / row houses). Fire risks are another pet bogieman in NZ, but they need not be. Sensible use of fire compartments and sprinklers and well-planned escape paths can make it work well.

We certainly need that land to be more productive. Tell New World to give me a call if they want a decent architect to wrangle the project into shape…

erentz
18 - 03 - 13

Guy: Re the Z station on Vivien St — totally agree about the potential of the backside of those buildings. Far more interesting. I’d like to see them open up onto some lane/courtyard/square or somesuch.

Or (actually) I’ve wanted to see a largeish park extending all the way from the existing Glover Park through the empty waste of space carparks to Vivien Street. I don’t think I’m alone in seeing that potential. I know others will want to lump buildings down and make small crooked narrow public spaces. But I think the city needs more parks IN the city. And this is a prime spot for one. The backs of these buildings would provide a great edge. There’s enough room for playgrounds for children. All of the airspace around this park could be taken up with apartments. It’d be great. At least IMHO. But it could never happen because it requires the WCC to actually MAKE something NEW, and we know they don’t seem believe in shaping the city these days (where the feck did this attitude come from, is it a generational anti-authority thing or something?) — only the NZTA is allow to shape the city with its motorways. I’m sure what will happen instead is some developer eventually plops down a giant turd of a building that cares absolutely nothing for the space. Another opportunity to make Wellington a better place will be lost. *Sigh*

starkive
18 - 03 - 13

For what it’s worth (not too much, given the disappearance of the old building facade in a previous billboard update) the Ghuznee New World Metro “coming soon” sign is touting apartments above.

davidp
18 - 03 - 13

The road could do with narrowing in that block, and the block between Tory and Chaffers. Removing a lane would make it easier for people to cross the road in what should be a pedestrian-priority area. Even the on-street parking is wrong. It’s angle parking on the north side of the street, but the parking is arranged with enough waste space behind the cars that you could land a helicopter.

And while I’m at it… The lower end of Taranaki St is far FAR too wide for the amount of traffic using it. Sort out Wakefield, then sort out Taranaki, and you’ll have made the city’s least friendly intersection a bit better.

Oh, and since I’m on a roll… The jump platform has been shut for almost a month now for health reasons. Which doesn’t stop people jumping in to the harbour there, or at the plank, or by the leaning bloke, or from the sunken section of deck outside Te Papa. Do people realise that Wellington Harbour is a festering cesspit of disease? Were the paddlers at the dragon boat festival this weekend warned that they were splashing each other with dangerous bacteria? I feel like shouting at people “get out of the water, you’re swimming in poo”. Except I’m not sure it is poo and I like to be accurate when I shout.

Maximus
18 - 03 - 13

Always good to be accurate when shouting, David, always good.
But just generally shout out Poo! and people will get the message…

BJ
19 - 03 - 13

That is the WORST Photoshop ever!

Seamonkey Madness
19 - 03 - 13

Re: the Vivian Z Station.
I’ve said it before, but I had seen what Shell was planning for that site, and compared to what it there now, well….I just don’t know what to say.

It had a UN Studio Te Papa extension vibe about it and looked like it incorporated commercial (not retail) and apartments in it. May have got shot down due to its height (would have shut out the L.T. Watkins sign. On that topic, it seems the other two ads below it (http://wellurban.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/signs-out-of-time.html) have been overshadowed by their modern-day corporate counterpart).

I can’t imagine the Angelika Cinema AND apartments being in the same building due to noise issues, although art house movies don’t tend to have mega-explosive battle scenes. It’s weird becuase it would just make commercial sense to do it, i.e. more money/rent per m².

I guess the constraint is that shoppers don’t like ugly structural pillars blocking their view of the latest 2 for 1 special? If so, then you can nix whatever you want to build atop that, or any other Countdown, New World, Four Square (how hipster would that be?) or *shudder* Pak n Save.

starkive
19 - 03 - 13

Readings have had years to build more screens on that site and plainly haven’t been convinced any more than Rialto could make the numbers work for a replacement Wellington site when they were moved out of Cable St. With the rise of digital lounge cinemas like the new Lighthouse in Wigan St, the business case for Angelika-scale venues must have dwindled to nothing. As a consequence there’s really no great call for pillar spacing of more than 10 metres or a stud height of more than 5 metres if you are not building a full-on popcorn mill.

E-Cinema has brought lower overheads, smaller audience break-evens and a rediscovered middle-aged audience who are willing to pay handsomely for food and drink. The result is that you can now set up a viable cinema business in a fairly conventional commercial space.

Countup
20 - 03 - 13

Maximus, I’m a little surprised that you thought the Ghuznee NW would just be a single storey supermarket. The sign on the corner shows the proposal: a supermarket with mezzanine (and a DomPost story last year said that this would have a “social kitchen” and cafe), topped with about floors of apartments arranged in an L-shape around a rooftop garden. Not a great active edge to Leeds St, but a good one to Ghuznee, and no parking for shoppers or residents. Overall, it’s about as urban a typology as you could wish for.

The Z station is indeed a huge disappointment, but as I understand it, when Shell left there was already a consent for a replacement, and it’s pretty hard to revoke that. It’s a continuation of a poor outcome, but not making anything worse.

As for a Countdown on the Reading site: who knows? The DomPost article sounds speculative, and I haven’t heard of any consent being issued. Your montage shows a typology that is completely at odds with the Central Area Design Guide, and you should be pretty sure that something like that couldn’t happen, or at least not without a fight. The District Plan requires verandahs and display windows here, and they’d have to go at least some way towards activating the edge to come close to meeting the design guide. I don’t think there’s any way the council could push for something higher or with a greater mixture of uses, since the DP makes most activities (as opposed to buildings) permitted, and unlike in the heritage areas there’s no lower height limit. Progressive don’t seem as, well, “progressive” as Foodstuffs when it comes to urbanism and mixed use, so one might suspect they’ll aim for something dumb, simple and cheap.

It would’ve been great to see an earlier proposal go ahead: I’m told that a 4-storey combined cinema/bowling alley/mini-supermarket/mixed retail development was consented several years ago, but that it never went ahead, and probably won’t now that there’s a bowling alley next door.

Inner City Suburbanite
3 - 04 - 13

While I can justify not being overly displeased by the prospect of cheaper toilet rolls closer to home with the new Countdown – murmurs of a new petrol station across the road from it is simply depressing. So that’s two petrol stations directly across the road from Te Papa!?

The link is no longer live (not recent enough for the “recent consents” page)… but here’s the link to the link:
http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?p=101877210&postcount=1080

Maximus
9 - 04 - 13

Inner city – thanks for the heads up. When I have time, I’ll try to get to the bottom of that…