Tongan church battles to save historical building

The future of a deteriorating heritage building remains on shaky ground

A Tongan church in Grey Lynn is hoping to have a decision by July on the future of one of Auckland’s highest priority heritage buildings.

Carlile House on Richmond Rd, owned by the United Church of Tonga, has sat empty for 20 years and is now “falling to the ground” due to a lack of maintenance, according to the chair of the church’s board.

Board chair Malakai Koloamatangi said the church had been consulting with its congregation over what to do with the building.

“There are three options: fix it ourselves, sell up and move away, or sit around and let it fall to the ground,” Mr Koloamatangi said.

A fourth option of collaborating with a development company to refurbish the building had been floated by the church and Auckland Council.

Mr Koloamatangi said the consultation between the church and the council had been positive, but a lot of the church’s members did not want to move away from the current site.

“Ninety per cent want to stay, a minority want to move, but they don’t want to move too far,” he said.

Church members do not want to lose their heritage as the church attached to Carlile House was the first place of worship built by Tongans outside Tonga, according to Mr Koloamatangi.

Built in 1886, Carlile House is one of Auckland’s oldest historic buildings and the council is keen to see it restored.

The former orphanage has been at the centre of failed negotiations between Auckland Council and the church in the past, but Te Waha Nui understands deals between the church and third parties have also fallen over.

Chair of the Tongan Advisory Council Melino Maka said an offer from an American-based property development company was “genuine”.

Managing partner of Third Leaf Partners, Aaron Faust, viewed the property in 2014, and confirmed via email to Te Waha Nui that, at the time, he had a “general willingness to consider refurbishing and leasing the building”.

Mr Faust confirmed that his company had made no formal approaches to the church regarding a deal, but Te Waha Nui understands a broker entered into discussions with the church on the company’s behalf. The early conversation involved the idea of the church leasing the building to the broker’s client on a 60-year lease and in return the client would fully refurbish the building.

Mr Maka spent 18 months brokering the deal before discussions fell through late last year. He estimated that the cost of restoration was $7 million and said it would take two years to return the building to its former glory.

Mr Koloamatangi said he was unaware of this deal, but said there had previously been interest from other companies.

Mr Maka confirmed he did not speak directly with Mr Koloamatangi, but dealt with other church leaders.

Auckland Council heritage manager Noel Reardon was unaware of the discussions with the broker when approached for comment, but described it as a good deal.

“That sounds like it would’ve been an ideal outcome,” he said.

Mr Reardon said the council had been working with the church to look at the possibility of the church restoring the building themselves. The church and the council are aiming to reach a decision by mid-July.

Mr Reardon said the building was a top priority, “second only to the St James Theatre”.

The council has installed a fence around the building after physical damage and graffiti accelerated deterioration.

Mr Koloamatangi said the building had suffered damage from “street kids, squatters and arson”.


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