Monday, 15 July 2013

NZ Fine Prints sells gallery's land to the Crown

New Zealand Fine Prints and associated companies (such as Capper Press and Avon Fine Prints) moved into the old Royal Exchange Assurance building at 202 Hereford St in the Christchurch CBD from cramped quarters above the National Party offices in Tuam St. It was the end of the 1960s and staff numbers were growing with projects like "Captain Cook's Artists in the Pacific" in full swing.  For nearly fifty years the 1890's era warehouses at the rear of the site was packed full of books and prints and the 1920s two storied building facing Hereford St comprised gallery and office space.

After September 4 2010 we spent well into six figures on temporary repairs and because of this early warning we were extremely fortunate that no-one was injured or killed although February 22nd 2011's earthquake damaged both buildings beyond repair.

Because such a large proportion of our business is now online (New Zealand Fine Prints is behind NZ's largest art print and poster site - prints.co.nz) the physical destruction of our buildings was, we thought, a temporary setback - an opportunity even to rethink the design of our buildings to relate better to other businesses on our block with a more pedestrian friendly access from Cashel St, Liverpool St and Woolsack Lane.   Our plan had always been to redevelop the site over time, preserving the character of the buildings in a central city location with plenty of parking with our unique business offering the largest range of prints in NZ as the anchor tenant.  We were not property developers, ours was a staged development intended to keep 202 Hereford maintained and economically viable for the next generation above all else.

When the Crown announced that our land was going to be seized for the so called green frame our initial reaction was disbelief.  But today we are announcing that along with many other CBD property owners we have been steamrolled by the Crown into accepting their offer for our land.  For an owner occupier with a sentimental attachment to our family's land we would never have sold our land at the low price offered by the Crown in the open market.  The idea that we are a willing seller is ridiculous as with only a single buyer and the threat of compulsory acquisition hanging over us we simply had no choice but to accept.
The ghostly outline of NZ Fine Prints' old gallery after demolition

Our main shopfront may be online but central to the DNA of our business is our love of NZ's visual culture and history, a sense of connectedness that is rooted in a specific geographic location.  The internet is ephemeral, a stock room piled high with packs of art prints on hundreds of shelves is tangible, even if a customer had never visited us they knew that behind the online gallery lay a family run business that had been around for a long time in one place.

Freed from a physical location (we may have been 2 1/2 years in Cashmere but it still feels transitional) we have renewed our focus on growing the online side of the business but despite the exponential growth that a website offers in terms of extra sales for our artists we are very sad that we are not being allowed to rebuild on our completely undamaged land (our place is being taken by a lawn).

It is businesses like NZ Fine Prints that make a central city different.  Taking our land away from us and imposing a top down plan on the rebuild of the CBD removes the entrepreneurial skills that the businesses around us had to make our block work with the hand the earthquakes dealt us.  NZ Fine Prints were also committed to the rebuild (trapped even) and prepared to invest more than a developer would based purely on the numbers as we had a sentimental attachment to making this patch of Christchurch awesome for our kids even if we didn't make much back financially for twenty years.

New location - look out for JK's kiwi sign
on Hackthorne Rd just past the school.
While we assess the options for a future site of a gallery, stockroom and warehousing we have made the decision to stay in our temporary premises (we are working from the basement of a classic Cashmere character house opening out into a superb garden with views across Christchurch, it's pretty nice here if a little quiet compared to the CBD) for at least another year while we wait and see what happens with the rebuild.

Customers looking for prints who are in Christchurch are always welcome to visit us, we now have nearly all prints back on one site thanks to some pretty innovative shelving (our prints are now double and triple bunked instead of luxuriating on a shelf of their own) although we are not carrying quite so many framed prints in stock framing to order within a few days instead.

The fact that the Crown will be packaging up our land for re-sale in the future without possibility of us buying it back at the same price seems really unfair and why businesses got such a harsh deal compared to property owners in residential neighbourhoods where the land was damaged (full payout of GV plus demolition costs) are the two things that we continue to feel bitter about. However we have decided to just give up and move on, lets hope the bureaucrats from Wellington flying down here each week know what they are doing with Christchurch.

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