Trust moves to sell strategic Cathedral Square corner site

The site of the landmark United Service Hotel, on the southwest corner of Cathedral Square in Christchurch, is poised to change hands for the first time in nearly 100 years.

The GD Greenwood family trust has owned the strategic 1,371sq m site since at least the 1920s but has decided against developing the bare land itself.

Spokesman John Greenwood said the trust had considered various development options.

"The family has owned the site for such a long time and it hasn’t been an easy decision. But we know what a pivotal property it is and a rare opportunity for prospective purchasers."

Originally known as the Morten Building, the site was bought by Richard Morten for 3950 pounds from the estate of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

The United Service Hotel was built in 1884-85, and a fifth storey added in 1929.

During its heyday, the hotel hosted Queen Elizabeth, leading European Heads of State and Royals, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Robert Falcon Scott.

Famous violinist Jan Kubelik was another guest while George Bernard Shaw was interviewed there by reporters.

The building was demolished in January 1990, as was a subsequent office building housing the ANZ after the earthquakes.

Hamish Doig, Colliers International Christchurch Managing Director, says CBD land is increasingly tightly held and it’s now rare that such a prominent corner site comes to the market.

“Astute developers know that a building will cost the same money, within reason, as building one in an inferior location. The value of the land content as a percentage of the overall build is a small proportion of the cost. Logically one should strive for the best possible location – such as this – to ensure the best outcome.

“In the first two or three years after the earthquakes, many significant land holdings changed hands as city landlords sought to consolidate their interests or to cement new development opportunities.

"But there are now far fewer sites coming to market and they’re being keenly contested – not just by local developers but by interests elsewhere in New Zealand."

The rectangular block is in the heart of Christchurch’s developing core, within walking distance of the anchor projects and private commercial precincts, and opposite the new build earmarked for Spark. 

Courtney Doig, who is co-marketing the land, says it offers a variety of development scenarios for prospective buyers, including as a hotel site, commercial office, retail, hospitality, and mixed use incorporating residential.

Nine Cathedral Square will be auctioned on June 15.

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