Former BNZ building in Lower Hutt to be replaced by apartments, craft brewery

Wellington developer Ian Cassels and Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace celebrate Cassels’ purchase of the former BNZ building.

Lower Hutt’s struggling central business district has received a vote of confidence from Wellington developer Ian Cassels.

On Thursday, the council announced Cassels had purchased the former BNZ site on High St for $1.5 million.

Cassels hopes to put a craft brewery in the bottom floor and turn the earthquake-prone building into apartments.

In-mid 2015, the council bought the site in for $2.8m from developer Raman Sarin who had resource consent to build a $25m hotel and apartment complex.

Hutt City Council is in the middle of a major plan to invest in the central city, which the council hopes will rejuvenate an area that has been in decline since the arrival of Queensgate Shopping Centre in 1986.

Its plans include a $33.9m events centre, support for a hotel in High St and turning the city towards Hutt River.

The former BNZ site has proved a headache for the council, and Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace could not hide his delight at the announcement.

“We are rapt that Ian Cassels is coming to Lower Hutt,” he said.

“We are absolutely over the moon to have one of the most distinguished property developers, not only in Wellington but in New Zealand, committing to Lower Hutt. It is a real vote of confidence.”

Cassels, the founder and director of The Wellington Company, has been a major player in the redevelopment of Wellington over recent decades.

His projects include Paetutu in the Lower Hutt suburb of Petone – a development of 56 two-storey terraced homes that sold before even going to market. He is also associated with a high profile plan to develop Shelly Bay on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula.

Cassels signalled the BNZ site development was only the start of his interest in Lower Hutt, as he also has major plans for residential developments in Wainuiomata. He is also looking for other opportunities in central Lower Hutt.

“We are delighted to be able to participate in the development of the [Lower] Hutt CBD and believe that with the planned river redevelopment, the future of Lower Hutt is looking very, very good.”

Cassels said he enjoyed the process of developing rundown areas and transforming them into vibrant communities. That was he speciality in Wellington – in areas like Te Aro and Cuba St – and Lower Hutt was ready to take off, he said.

It has “good bones” and a council that is looking to rejuvenate the city. He predicted that in five-to-ten years, the central city would look very different.

Apartments would bring people into the city, and he predicted his development would be the first of many similar projects over the next few years.

The BNZ building was put up for sale in late 2017, and council chief executive Tony Stallinger said there had been a number of quality bids.

The sale to Cassels was agreed at a special meeting of the city council on Tuesday night, and was unanimous.

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