Multimillionaire investor plans new $40m Countdown for Auckland’s Herne Bay

A multimillionaire property investor is about to start building a new metro-sized supermarket in New Zealand’s wealthiest suburb.

Ben Cook of the privately-owned Cook Property said he had struck a deal with Woolworths which had committed to a 12-year lease on the 1800sq m store with 54 carparks where a construction contract has been let.

The Countdown will be on the corner of Kelmarna Ave and Jervois Rd in Herne Bay and Cook said the closest supermarket for many locals was the popular New World Victoria Park.

OneRoof data shows Herne Bay is New Zealand’s most expensive urban suburb to buy a house.

Cook said the planned store will be metro-style “around half the size of a full-scale supermarket and the finished value will be around $40m”.

Cook bought the site from New Zealand’s wealthiest private developers, Mansons TCLM. A hotel, The Gables, had been there for some years.

Last year, Cook rejected speculation from locals said they expected him to develop a new Countdown supermarket there but he said that wasn’t his plan at all.

“There are a lot of whispers but it’s likely this site will be redeveloped into retail and residential. I have been buying a few Countdowns but I’ve never built any,” Cook said in November.

Today, he explained more about the change of tack.

“The final plan is a Countdown Metro supermarket, not a full-scale supermarket, it’s a small boutique offering tailored to the community, with a focus on fresh food, premium foods and fine wines,” he said.

The site will be held as a long-term investment by Kremlin Capital owned by Cook and associate Kurt Gibbons.

“The Kremlin is a collection of the most valuable buildings in Moscow and my investment philosophy has always been long term investment in assets with the primest location. Herne Bay is New Zealand’s most expensive suburb,” said Cook who also lives locally.

“My original idea was to create a Ponsonby Central type offering, however, the Covid debacle meant that retailers and food and beverage operators were reluctant to commit, therefore this plan wasn’t viable.

“I’m a passive investor – not a developer so Gibbons provides development expertise for investment projects which require new construction,” Cook said today.

Matt Grainger, Countdown’s acting general manager of property, said resource consent was granted for the store for the Herne Bay community.

“The area has seen good growth over the last few years, with an increasing number of new apartment buildings and commercial development. We’ve also seen a shift in how our customers are shopping, with many in urban areas moving towards smaller, more frequent shops, and easy-eating/ quick to prepare meal options,” Grainger said.

“These changes to the area and the way customers are now shopping have been a key influence on the design and range we will be offering with this new Metro store,” he said.

While the smaller format store would still have plenty of pantry staples, a focus would be put on supplying easy options including like barista-made coffee, ready-to-go meals, sandwiches, salads, health-focused snack options and take-home dinners.

Eighty new jobs would be created and the store would have low emission refrigeration, LED lighting, bike parks and undercover parking off Kelmarna Ave. Construction would start soon and finish next year, Grainger said.

In 2006, the Herald reported on a plan for the Gables to be demolished for apartments and a new restaurant and bar. That never happened.

Plans at the time were for the 1970s, English-style pub occupies a valuable site.

In 2007, the Environment Court declined consent for a tavern, 14 office units, four townhouses and four apartments. Environment Court Judge Fred McElrea said the development was an “over intensive use of the site” and would lead to adverse environmental effects and conflict with provisions in Auckland City’s district plan.

Mansons TCLM bought the property but never developed it. Three years ago, the site was being marketed by Bayleys which said a resource consent had been granted for 69 apartments, two shops and 76 car parks.

“This well-known property, formerly home to The Gables tavern, is one of the last large-scale development opportunities available in the sought-after inner-city suburb of Herne Bay,” said agent Paul Hain. The rectangular-shaped site had two street frontages.

Ex-Auckland councillor Mike Lee said last decade the century-old combined wastewater and stormwater system had the capacity for present levels of wastewater in dry weather, but not in wet weather when there were more than 52 overflows and discharges of sewage into the Waitemata Harbour a year.

Holding tanks could largely cope with extra stormwater from 70 apartments and three shops, Lee said, but more and a greater concentration of wastewater pollutants would flow into the harbour.

But the apartment scheme never went ahead, Cook bought the site and now the supermarket is due to rise.

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