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Lyttelton project's novel approach to property development

9 July 2018

Christchurch company Ohu Ltd is turning property development on its head with a design competition under way for a privately-funded commercial building in Lyttelton that is open to public voting.

The company also plans to invite the community to own Collett’s Corner, with individual shares available for possibly as low as $100.

Ohu, founded by Lyttelton-based former architect Camia Young, started the project with a “listening phase” in 2017 where it asked Lyttelton locals to share their ideas for the prominent site in Lyttleton’s main street.

Many wanted a unique, memorable place to take visitors, with options including a quirky hotel, a cosy cinema and Roman-style baths in the basement – and that’s what they’re getting.

Collett’s Corner will feature a hotel on the first floor, a cinema and bar on the top floor, a co-working space, restaurant and retail space on the ground floor and Roman-style baths in the basement.

To finalise a concept design (an early stage idea) for the estimated $7 million building, Ohu launched a competition open to teams from anywhere in the world.

At least one person in each team needed to be a registered architect, architectural graduate, or an architectural designer.

Young says the competition appealed to teams “that strongly believe in building communities and that see architecture as a way to create places of connection and belonging”.

Ohu received 31 submissions by its deadline and has now short-listed three concept designs following a three-day public vote.

The finalists have until August 31 to turn their concept designs into architectural designs and after another round of public voting, the winner will be announced in mid-September.

“The purpose of the design competition was to give the public an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process that leads to the development of the building – and to give architects an opportunity to share with the public how they work and what defines their creative practice,” Young says.

“Ohu in Te Reo Māori means people working together. We aim to bring people together to have meaningful conversations at every stage of the development; this is how we build community – through connecting people in ways that they can share what matters to them.”

Ohu plans to launch an equity crowdfunding campaign in February next year to give people who believe in the project an opportunity to invest in it.

James Stewart, the company’s managing partner, says shares could start as low as $100 and Ohu is thinking about putting an upper cap on investing too.

“We’d love as many owners for this facility as possible. We haven’t seen it done for a commercial building before in New Zealand – and by that we mean using equity crowd funding as the vehicle to create a collectively-owned building,” Stewart says.

“This approach opens the door to people who would not otherwise be able to invest in developments of this kind. If you want to own a bit of the cinema, you can. It’s a bit more tangible.”

Ohu hopes to complete the design and planning for Collett’s Corner in 2018, apply for consents in 2019 and complete construction to open the building at the end of 2020. Estimated costs are $720,000 for the land and $7 million for construction.

Young, who moved to Christchurch in 2011, has been involved in several community-minded initiatives, including founding XCHC and leading the design of Gap Filler’s Pallet Pavilion – a transitional architecture project that functioned as a community space and venue following the city’s 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

She says Ohu has more than 20 other projects in the wings, which fit into three categories: “ones we lead, ones we partner on and ones we support”.

“The common thread across all of the projects is building community by building buildings, creating connected space and regenerative economic models that see wealth shared equitably,” Young says.

“In our current built fabric, we have separated everything – working, sleeping, playing, learning. As we move out of the Production Age and into the Age of Belonging these things are gently coming back together. It’s in their overlap where community breeds and meaningful relationships develop.”

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