Having set up a bunch of keen comers to fill holes in the saddest stretch of the Golden Mile, commercial property specialists Bryan Block and David Grant are continuing their quest to change Wellington’s retail sector one street at a time.
Story and photos by Mark Cubey
David Grant (left) and Bryan Block of Crown Commercial.
Manners Street between Willis and Taranaki Streets has been more Tarnished Trashdom than Golden Mile for a while now. Chain stores Cotton On, Typo and Jay-Jays shoulder up to fast-food-fixers McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Abrakebabra and other hole-in-the-wall bargain eateries in a lacklustre tussle to claim turf as the lowest common denominator brands in the land.
But amid the fashion-focused retail mecca of Willis Street and Lambton Quay to the north, and the party-hearty hospo zone of Courtenay Place to the east, Manners Street has long been a retail opportunity waiting to happen.
Enter the directors of Wellington’s independent real estate agency Crown Commercial: the aptly named Block and Grant, who recently secured leases for seven premises on Manners Street.
On what was once Perrett’s Corner (Kordia House, 2-16 Manners Street), Wellington’s best and fast-growing Japanese restaurant chain, TJ Katsu, is getting ready to open the fourth lease secured for them by Crown in the space of six years.
A Vietnamese restaurant will open downstairs in Kordia House, in the low-slung space next to Kiwibank (above) that has proved an insurmountable barrier for every hospitality provider that has essayed there. But you never know.
Across the road, heading east, optometrists Capital Eyes are already established at 27 Manners Street.
Yet to come in the section of the strip along from the site vacated by long-time apparel champs Hurricane (now situated amid myriad Aussie fashion chains in Willis Street), will be Japanese chain store Daiso, tea specialists Gong Cha, and Australian bakery chain Breadtop, all preparing to occupy 55-63 Manners St before the end of the year.
And to complete the septet there’s an Iranian restaurant with a lease on 99 Manners Street, the site of the place that used to flog mussels.
But wait, there’s more.
Crown Commercial have brokered the lease between the owners of 18-32 Manners Street and Wellington City Council.
The WCC Contact and Service centre is due to relocate early next year to the Manners Street site, as it moves away from its current proximity to Civic Square and the Town Hall; the mess and noise associated with the latter building’s restrengthening will make the current 101 Wakefield Street premises uninhabitable for employees.
That move that will bring an influx of workers and customers into the area, driving foot traffic to support the surrounding retailers.
“The resurgence of Manners St has well and truly begun,” says Bryan Block.
His confidence is probably not misplaced,
Bryan Block and David Grant established Crown Commercial as an independent real estate agency just over 12 months ago. This was four years after Block and his family left Eastern Europe to join Grant and his family who’d moved here from the UK a decade ago.
Between them they have around 50 years of experience in the industry, across several continents, markets and sectors including managing the sale and lease of hotels in Europe and in New Zealand.
Once they established themselves in New Zealand they acted to secure leases for major banks, national and international fashion brands, and retail and hospitality outlets.
To date, they’ve brokered well over 300 leasing deals in the Wellington CBD alone.
Block and Grant were instrumental in bringing Melbourne’s famous Laneway concept to Wellington: small-scale connections within street networks that offer shorter and more attractive pedestrian routes through large city blocks, improving walkability.
The most recent of these is the recently launched Lombard/Bond laneway, which includes the Victoria Street strip that houses fashion outlets like Huffer, Good as Gold and Alchemy.
Block and Grant prefigured that laneway with their work on the precinct than encompasses Eva, Leeds and Egmont Streets.
They were successful in procuring boutique tenants such as Wellington Chocolate Factory, Goldings Freedive Bar, cocktail bar Hanging Ditch, Shepherd restaurant, Red Rabbit Coffee Roastery, Leeds St Bakery and the Egmont Street Eatery for what has become the core transition zone between Manners and Dixon Streets, and indubitably cool Cuba Street.
“We worked with the landlord to reinvent and invigorate the area, transforming it into the cool, funky Melbournesque feel it has today,” says Block.
“We can see the potential in Wellington, especially in the Te Aro area where both landlords and tenants are doing their best to mitigate earthquake risks and retain as many heritage buildings as possible.”
This year they looked down on Manners Street from their Victoria Street offices with the goal of achieving similar results.
He says that working closely with landlords to better suit the needs of smaller, boutique businesses is one of the strengths of their business model.
“The face of retail shopping in Wellington is changing. It makes sense to work with landlords to ensure they can develop the type of space retailers know will suit their business today and in the future.”
Andrew Monahan of Prime Property Group Ltd described Block and Grant as the most energetic and effective retail leasing agents in Wellington.
“They have completed the most retail leasing transactions across our retail portfolio and on many of those transactions exceeded our expectations,” he says.
In turn, Block and Grant feel energised by their adopted home.
“Wellington is a city that appreciates its heritage. It’s got a compact, quality vibe about it that we love and can see from our overseas experience, is one of the things that makes it such a great place to work and live,” Bryan Block says.
Meanwhile, there’s still a lonely space in Manners Street with a Crown lease sign in the window, waiting for a tenant…