The DomPost reported recently that Wellington Construction Ltd has bit the dust, owing various creditors money as it dissolved into a pile of construction rubble. We’re saddened by that, but its not completely unexpected: you run with wolves, you might just get bitten: although in this case its not really clear who is doing the biting. The saviour of Wellington football club Phoenix, our favourite spiky-haired developer Terry Serepisos has been hit by collateral damage – WCL were building Terry’s Century City development, leaving it in a state of limbo. Perhaps it may even have a a roll-on effect on the next Serepisos project in Dixon St. So, is this the start of the end of Wellington’s construction boom, or is it completely unrelated?
Maybe we just leave you to make your own mind up. Terry Pinfold, the head of WCL, was an experienced contractor:
“Pinfold made his name as commercial manager for Mainzeal in the 1990s when he was associated with projects such as moving the Museum Hotel, refurbishing the St James Theatre and building the Moa Point sewage treatment plant. In 1998 he set up the Wellington office of Auckland-based Hartner Construction. When Hartner went into liquidation in 2001, Mr Pinfold bought its Wellington operation and renamed it Wellington Construction. But three of his other companies – Kate Sheppard Developments, Holland Street Developments and Aitken Street Developments – are also in liquidation.”
Its not unusual for developers and builders to burn to the ashes and rise Phoenix-like in another form. Is this latest collapse just another phase in construction recycling?
WCL may have been caught in a pincer movement between rising material costs, complex designs, and probably the odd guaranteed maximum price. However, WCL viewed themselves as specialists in Design and Build, and therein perhaps lies their downfall: they don’t exactly have a brilliant track record regarding the quality of the developments they worked on. If there is one thing to almost guarantee a low quality of finish, an under-priced D&B is it: witness the architecturally stunted development of the Mulgrave St apartments. From an architectural viewpoint, D&B seldom delivers on what we may call Design Quality, and the majority of their projects bear this out: apartments in Mulgrave St, Bellagio apartments, the tall ugly skinny thing at 156 Willis Street, another tall pinkish apartment building in Johnston St, the Wellington YHA (later rebuilt to much higher quality standard by another company), the Hotel Raffael conversion, and some better quality projects such as projects in Oriental Bay, and of course their flagship piece in Century City. Most of the other construction contractors seem to have pretty full workloads at present, although we’re obviously not privy to what their workload is like in the future. Certainly there are still a number of large projects on the cards, although some, like the government mega-project behind the Beehive, currently wrangled in Environment Court hell (and many would argue: rightly so too).
Still, at least earthquake repairs will be continuing, albiet at a slower pace according to this story in the DomPost.
“Building owners in Wellington have been given another five years in which to earthquake-proof their properties. Wellington City Council granted the reprieve – as it faced the daunting prospect of finding the money to make sure its own portfolio of 400 buildings met the requirements of the 2004 Building Act. Mayor Kerry Prendergast said while the old code was designed to protect people’s lives, the new code was about securing buildings as well. “This is going to have a huge impact on building owners,” said Ms Prendergast, who was worried that it could spark a wave of demolition like that of the 1980s.”
With a bit of intelligent design and planning, we can have it both ways: retention of genuine heritage, and construction opportunities for new and exciting buildings, by quality contractors. And some strongly crossed fingers that the continuing collapse of property finance companies doesn’t extend to more construction companies as well. Just one proviso: No more D&B please.