A developer's eye

An opportunity to develop a prime site in Gisborne brought Brian Johns here in 2000 and led to the biggest commercial development in the city’s modern history. Now Brian is back in a city he loves in a dual role, managing the new Albert Lodge accommodation building and as regional director for the Eagle Flight Training School.

An opportunity to develop a prime site in Gisborne brought Brian Johns here in 2000 and led to the biggest commercial development in the city’s modern history. Now Brian is back in a city he loves in a dual role, managing the new Albert Lodge accommodation building and as regional director for the Eagle Flight Training School.

BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT:
Brian Johns’ major commercial development, seen from Kaiti Hill, shows The Warehouse, a hotel, townhouses, office block and apartments on the former Heinz Wattie site.

BRIAN Johns knows a good development prospect when he sees it and in 2000 he saw a lot of potential in a 4.7-hectare site in the centre of Gisborne.

The land had previously been occupied by the Heinz Wattie factories but the company had left the area and Gisborne District Council bought the land for $2.7 million to prevent it being used again as industrial.

Enter Brian Johns who saw the advantage of this site with such a wide range of potential uses.

“Therefore, you had a blank canvas to work with,” he said.

“Being the land where Captain Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil, the site had its challenges, but I created and entered into a protocol with local iwi, prior to starting, and planned a reserve area where any human remains found during earthworks could be relocated in a park-like setting.

“Three human remains were discovered and were placed in the reserve with the appropriate cultural blessings. Fortnightly meetings with the iwi ensured no hold-ups and a smooth project flow.”

Brian Johns managed the resource consent process and subdivision, obtained titles, and pre-sold off the plans the investments created. The city has ended up with a prime area containing a 21-townhouse block in a gated community, a 70-room hotel, two apartment blocks, a conference centre and restaurant, two-level office building and the 7000 square metre building for The Warehouse group.

He sat down with architect Malcolm Brown and told him the sort of thing he would like to see on the site.

“Malcolm scaled the various options on the plan. We went through from A probably to G and finally settled on F."

The Harbour View town houses came first. There were plans for Harvey Norman to go on the site.

They then designed the Portside Hotel, Bayley’s office and gave the reserve land to the council for the remains found.

“My forte is in looking at a site, developing a concept, getting the resource consents and then passing the building opportunities off to a builder or developer.”

Robb Noble built the town houses and apartment block and Gary McNabb then constructed the Portside Hotel and bought the next site where Marina View apartments are located.

The original proposal was controversial because some business interests and others did not wish to see The Warehouse expanding or the land becoming commercial.

There was a legal challenge to the way the District Council had formed its plan and as a result the issue went as far as the High Court.

Then District Council chief executive Bob Elliott negotiated a deal whereby the council looked again at its plan.

However, at that point an email was circulated by a council staff member in effect saying “we must stop this development at all costs”.

“We then had to take the matter to the Environment Court because the council was trying to change the zoning having sold me the land.”

The presiding judge later commented that this was the worst case he had seen of a council treating a developer.

“Anyway, that is now all water under the bridge,” he said.

“Because of the delay and the possibility of court cases, Harvey Norman backed out and it was then that I had a call from The Warehouse saying they would like to talk to me.

“It took me about eight months to convince The Warehouse that they should not just have a red barn there and it should have some architectural features.”

Controversy did continue with local man Dean Witters trying to form a group to buy the site, but commercial development and The Warehouse building did finally go ahead.

“That was a site just waiting to be developed,” he said. “

“My good luck was that by paying the council what they really wanted and structuring the deal, they had to take down all the buildings. That was a real plus because I was able to go ahead with more certainty knowing that I would end up with a flat, level site.

“That was the only reason I was able to pay as much money ($3 million) as I did for the site. The only other tender was for about $700,000 to store logs.”

The retail value of the properties on the site would now be about $80 million. Also at the time he developed the site the rates being paid to the council were $75,000 — the last time he looked that figure was up to $400,000.

Brian bought two properties in Repongaere Road, Patutahi, which unfortunately coincided with the 2007 financial crisis. One was onsold and three chalets were built on the other before the crisis kicked in.

He also owned and later sold the Senator and Pacific Harbour motels.

Brian started his working life as an apprentice motor mechanic in Te Aroha, moving up to managing motor firms at Te Aroha and Morrinsville employing 40 people.

In 1982 he moved to Auckland and into real estate with Bayley’s, where he was a top performer before going into project management from 1995 to 2007 with developments in Auckland, Hamilton, Tokoroa and the major one in Gisborne.

Now he is back in Gisborne with two roles. He is managing the new Albert Lodge 40-bed hostel for long-term-stay adult students and workers for a friend Owen Williams, and has taken the role of regional director for the Eagle Flight Training School.

He is enthusiastic about the school, which is at present being operated as a satellite to the company’s Ardmore base.

“It will give pupils, hopefully including some locals, the opportunity to qualify all the way up to becoming international pilots.”

Brian still has faith in Gisborne’s future. He still thinks the city is undervalued.

“I have the feeling this time around there is a more positive attitude in a lot of sectors and I would like to do other projects here,” he said.

BRIAN Johns knows a good development prospect when he sees it and in 2000 he saw a lot of potential in a 4.7-hectare site in the centre of Gisborne.

The land had previously been occupied by the Heinz Wattie factories but the company had left the area and Gisborne District Council bought the land for $2.7 million to prevent it being used again as industrial.

Enter Brian Johns who saw the advantage of this site with such a wide range of potential uses.

“Therefore, you had a blank canvas to work with,” he said.

“Being the land where Captain Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil, the site had its challenges, but I created and entered into a protocol with local iwi, prior to starting, and planned a reserve area where any human remains found during earthworks could be relocated in a park-like setting.

“Three human remains were discovered and were placed in the reserve with the appropriate cultural blessings. Fortnightly meetings with the iwi ensured no hold-ups and a smooth project flow.”

Brian Johns managed the resource consent process and subdivision, obtained titles, and pre-sold off the plans the investments created. The city has ended up with a prime area containing a 21-townhouse block in a gated community, a 70-room hotel, two apartment blocks, a conference centre and restaurant, two-level office building and the 7000 square metre building for The Warehouse group.

He sat down with architect Malcolm Brown and told him the sort of thing he would like to see on the site.

“Malcolm scaled the various options on the plan. We went through from A probably to G and finally settled on F."

The Harbour View town houses came first. There were plans for Harvey Norman to go on the site.

They then designed the Portside Hotel, Bayley’s office and gave the reserve land to the council for the remains found.

“My forte is in looking at a site, developing a concept, getting the resource consents and then passing the building opportunities off to a builder or developer.”

Robb Noble built the town houses and apartment block and Gary McNabb then constructed the Portside Hotel and bought the next site where Marina View apartments are located.

The original proposal was controversial because some business interests and others did not wish to see The Warehouse expanding or the land becoming commercial.

There was a legal challenge to the way the District Council had formed its plan and as a result the issue went as far as the High Court.

Then District Council chief executive Bob Elliott negotiated a deal whereby the council looked again at its plan.

However, at that point an email was circulated by a council staff member in effect saying “we must stop this development at all costs”.

“We then had to take the matter to the Environment Court because the council was trying to change the zoning having sold me the land.”

The presiding judge later commented that this was the worst case he had seen of a council treating a developer.

“Anyway, that is now all water under the bridge,” he said.

“Because of the delay and the possibility of court cases, Harvey Norman backed out and it was then that I had a call from The Warehouse saying they would like to talk to me.

“It took me about eight months to convince The Warehouse that they should not just have a red barn there and it should have some architectural features.”

Controversy did continue with local man Dean Witters trying to form a group to buy the site, but commercial development and The Warehouse building did finally go ahead.

“That was a site just waiting to be developed,” he said. “

“My good luck was that by paying the council what they really wanted and structuring the deal, they had to take down all the buildings. That was a real plus because I was able to go ahead with more certainty knowing that I would end up with a flat, level site.

“That was the only reason I was able to pay as much money ($3 million) as I did for the site. The only other tender was for about $700,000 to store logs.”

The retail value of the properties on the site would now be about $80 million. Also at the time he developed the site the rates being paid to the council were $75,000 — the last time he looked that figure was up to $400,000.

Brian bought two properties in Repongaere Road, Patutahi, which unfortunately coincided with the 2007 financial crisis. One was onsold and three chalets were built on the other before the crisis kicked in.

He also owned and later sold the Senator and Pacific Harbour motels.

Brian started his working life as an apprentice motor mechanic in Te Aroha, moving up to managing motor firms at Te Aroha and Morrinsville employing 40 people.

In 1982 he moved to Auckland and into real estate with Bayley’s, where he was a top performer before going into project management from 1995 to 2007 with developments in Auckland, Hamilton, Tokoroa and the major one in Gisborne.

Now he is back in Gisborne with two roles. He is managing the new Albert Lodge 40-bed hostel for long-term-stay adult students and workers for a friend Owen Williams, and has taken the role of regional director for the Eagle Flight Training School.

He is enthusiastic about the school, which is at present being operated as a satellite to the company’s Ardmore base.

“It will give pupils, hopefully including some locals, the opportunity to qualify all the way up to becoming international pilots.”

Brian still has faith in Gisborne’s future. He still thinks the city is undervalued.

“I have the feeling this time around there is a more positive attitude in a lot of sectors and I would like to do other projects here,” he said.

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