By Laura Hall
On a gloomy Christchurch day among The Terrace’s chaotic, mud trodden construction site, lights up the temporary onsite offices. It’s not just his blinding, fluorescent yellow suit and matching accessories that radiate off him; it’s his personality and entire persona that shine.
His flamboyant signature style certainly stands out in a crowd, just the way he likes it but it is his outspoken, gung-ho attitude that is the real head turner.
Come hell or high water Antony has pressed on with his grand plans for the half block entertainment precinct on Oxford Terrace called The Terrace, which will replace The Strip. It is his approach that has made this rich-lister the face of the city centre’s rebuild. A title he is more than happy to flaunt.
Yes, Cantabrians are familiar with the name and the face of the developer who is getting stuck into the rebuild. However, there are a few fascinating facts that aren’t so commonly known among the masses. This fashionista once worked the land on a sheep farm in Chertsey, Canterbury for 13 years. And what’s possibly even more surprising, he has an honours degree in physics.
While some property owners have been hesitant to reinvest in the city centre Antony isn’t holding back.
The entertainment precinct featuring restaurants, bars and shops will offer a shopping and dining experience like no other in the city, with visitors invited to promenade down the lane ways in a space Antony hopes will become the “living room” of the city.
Despite the naysayers repeatedly telling Antony he won’t find anyone to fill the buildings, he already has tenants lined up for most of the offices along Oxford Terrace and names against around 80 percent of the hospitality space in stage one. The first of three buildings is already taking shape and stage one is expected to be open by Autumn 2015.
He promises the build will be something truly special, a “gift to Christchurch”. And it is one pricy gift with the insurance pay out of $40 million estimated to cover just a quarter of the cost to build the full precinct; the rest is coming from his own pockets and other investors.
But Antony is casually waving off the escalating $100 million dollar bill he’s footing. For him it’s not about the cost rather a unique opportunity to start over. “It is our duty to better the city and make it an exciting, vibrant place people want to come to.”
As Antony’s towers rise up from the rubble, rubber stamping his mark on the city, he admits he is extremely fortunate to be in his position. “No, I wouldn’t be where I am today without family money, but I think everyone gets something in their life that comes their way and the thing is not to waste that opportunity.”
The family money that gave Antony his kick-start in life was hard earned by his grandfather Tracy Gough. About 85 years ago Tracy founded and ran the New Zealand Caterpillar franchise, dealing in tractors and heavy machinery.
The Caterpillar business has developed and expanded a number of times during the years and now employs around 900 staff from Auckland to Invercargill, all the while maintaining the family fortune through the Gough, Gough and Hamer business, which is still privately owned today.
The making of the man
Antony is 65 and proud of it, “I feel I’m almost at that point where I don’t care about my age and I almost can’t believe I got here,” he says.
He is a Christchurch boy through and through attending all the right schools; firstly the prestigious Medbury School followed by Christ’s College. He then went on to study at the University of Canterbury achieving a physics honours degree with a special interest in nuclear physics. “That’s a specialist degree where they put you in a tiny little room and pressure cook you on physics for fours years.”
He soon realised a nuclear physics degree was “a bit of a joke” in New Zealand and there were certainly no jobs for a nuclear physicist in a nuclear free country.
His father Owen recommended he should try his hand at computers, so he went to work at the family business as a computer programmer. Computers clicked with his mathematical brain and within five years he was manager of the department with 25 staff under him.
But shortly after starting work at the company his attention turned to property investment. “To me it seemed natural. I could see potential in things that other people obviously couldn’t,” he says.
His grandfather had died many years previously and he received a small inheritance at age 21, which came locked into Christchurch City Council bonds for 20 years. His parents kept a tight control on the family money; they never overspent and rarely bought exorbitant items, “we were asset rich and cash poor,” he says.
But when a corner property came up for sale next to The Bridge of Remembrance the opportunity was too good to pass up. He suggested to his father that the company should consider buying the site but Owen didn’t share his son’s ambitious views.
“My father said you get on with your studies and we’ll get on with selling tractors. But those words to me were like a red flag is to a bull.” So, much to his parent’s absolute horror he stuck his neck out and sold his Christchurch City Council bonds on the stock exchange at a capital loss. Then he went into partnership with his twin sister Avenal and bought the building.
“My parents asked me what did I know about property? I said nothing, but I’m going to learn quickly.” Considering the state of Antony’s property portfolio you’d have to say he’s a pretty quick study.
During the years his properties have housed bars and restaurants on The Strip encompassing Liquidity, Ferment, The Tap Room, The Bangalore Polo Club and The Boulevard, as well as the Maithai, Vivace Coffee, Shands Emporium, Dimitris Souvlaki, Maher Shoes, Radar Records, a ten storey office tower over looking Victoria Square, two hotels and a retirement village just to name a few.
To most people this may seem like an impressive list of properties but for Antony it was just a warm up preparing him for the challenge of building The Terrace, his biggest project to date.
Don’t be mistaken though, he’s had his fair share of struggles. His first was just a year after buying his first property, the building burnt down and it took six years to recover the money from the insurance company.
More recently his business partner, who jointly owned the Poplars Apartments with him went bankrupt. So Antony bought him out, changed the whole project from apartments to sell to a boutique hotel and then ran the hotel called The Poplars Apartment Hotel and Oasis restaurant himself. These difficult times prepared for the challenges he now faces.
Where to next
“At the moment I have plenty on my plate to wake me up at three in the morning. I sometimes think ‘what are you doing Antony’? which is pretty normal these days. I’m taking a huge risk. I’ve got no income at the moment, but plenty of money going out.”
Under the Crown’s compulsory land acquisition for the city’s blueprint Antony lost two key corner sites overlooking the Avon River and parks. “I’ll never be able to buy them back at the price I had to sell them to the Crown at, but it is also important to move on and not dwell on negatives.”
But he’s not holding any grudges – that’s just not his style. “A lot of people dwell on things and you’ll notice I don’t; I’ve learnt to let go and move on. I always say my glass is half full not half empty; it’s my positive philosophy that has helped me keep going.”
After two years in a battle with his insurance companies he is now fully settled for the buildings themselves and looking to the future. “My insurance outstanding issues are minor these days.
“I want to create something that is a legacy for Christchurch that people can be absolutely proud of. So for me The Terrace is about putting something back into the city that has given me so much.”
And with this noble vision in mind he created a few basic rules for his architects.
“Firstly I want to optimise the site, not maximise it. Most developers try to max out the site to make a big return on it, but I am more interested in building a quality space that can breathe.
“Secondly I want to build lanes not arcades; lanes are open to the sky and create open air spaces with sunshine and light everywhere. Arcades are covered tunnels. And lastly I want a collection of unique buildings with a timeless look. I have a saying if you see it in a mall you won’t see it here.”
The Terrace build is percolating along nicely thanks to Antony’s ever optimistic outlook, high standards and wads of cash, but he says there are other aspects of the city’s rebuild that aren’t looking so bright.
“Firstly CERA in all their wisdom thought it was a great idea to lock the city down for 15 months after the earthquake. But that move has set the rebuild back by more than a year and forced many investors and retailers out of the city.
“And secondly the anchor projects, which should be the inspiration for the rebuild, are taking far too long to come out of the ground. They should have been the front runners to drive people back into the city and they are the tail wagers. The great thing is these are now starting to happen.”
Despite the anchor projects’ start dates falling short of his expectations, Antony is quick to remind me of all the exciting progress that is being made. “I know people are saying ‘the rebuild is so slow and taking forever’. I say to these people wake up and take a look at the city – there is development everywhere.”
The foundations are being laid for the $100 million Cashel Square office and retail precient between Cashel, Hereford and Colombo Streets. There are four new buildings going up on Cambridge Terrace. Shaun Stockman has just completed a brand new building on the corner of Lichfield and High Street.
Antony expects to hear news of the rebuild on the Triangle Centre area soon and the former Grand Chancellor site has had plans announced for a replacement building on its site. The justice precinct is on its way and the new bus exchange is to be completed in 2015.
“Christchurch is having a huge amount of money invested into it. It’s going to be the financial powerhouse of New Zealand. People like me are spending huge amounts of money out of their own pockets to create a new city from nothing.”
Antony buzzes with enthusiasm as he talks about the future of the city and it is obvious he is genuinely ecstatic about what the future holds.
“I think the future of Christchurch central city is hugely under rated by the general public. The finished product is going to hit Christchurch people by storm.
“The reality will exceed what the blueprint plan promises; Christchurch will be the city of the future with other cities looking to it for leadership and inspiration. I don’t think people have seen what’s coming yet.”
As the city continues to transform and take on its new shape people will start to get hyped up and excited too. “You’ve got to sell the enthusiasm and the buzz for the city. In the early part of next year we will all be down here having a party, celebrating the opening of The Terrace.”
If anyone is capable of selling enthusiasm it’s Antony Gough. All he needs to do is walk into the room.