Building Fire revives safety concerns over abandoned Palmerston North monument


The aftermath of the High Flyers fire, an iconic building in central Palmerston North.

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The aftermath of the High Flyers fire, an iconic building in central Palmerston North.

A once proud building in the heart of Palmerston North is known for its broken windows, graffiti and anti-social behavior.

On Monday, it also became the scene of a suspicious fire, which rekindled public pressure to have the downtown building demolished or secured.

The 114-year-old former post office at the corner of Main Street and The Square, more recently known as the High Flyers building, has not been fully utilized for decades.

Palmerston North bus driver Marty Rowe said the dilapidated building, which stands next to the city’s bus hub, had sparked anti-social behavior for years and something had to be done.

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Firefighters are battling a blaze in the massive High Flyers building, which occupies much of the Palmerston North CBD.

David Unwin / Tips

Firefighters are battling a blaze in the massive High Flyers building, which occupies much of the Palmerston North CBD.

Part of the building had been used as a sports bar, but the last tenant moved after the building received an unsafe construction notice from Palmerston North City Council in 2016.

“There are a lot of people like me who work nearby, and we would all like something done to make us feel safer until the future of the building is decided,” he wrote in an e-mail to Thing.

“[It] has been seriously overlooked, little has been done to secure it in the past several years and, frankly, I’m not surprised this has happened given the amount of trash and debris thought to be inside.

He said people, including children, were often seen entering the building.

The abandoned building is a hot spot for anti-social behavior.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

The abandoned building is a hot spot for anti-social behavior.

In 2020, a metal trash can was thrown from a top-floor window and nearly hit him while he was taking one of his breaks.

He said Thing a popular theory as to why the building was abandoned was that its heritage status prevented developers from making any changes.

“It should just be demolished or secured while waiting … the school children are waiting outside for the bus, that’s a little worrying.”

Heritage buildings could be written off if they sustained significant damage, but Heritage New Zealand central area manager Alison Dangerfield had seen photos of the aftermath of Monday’s fire and was confident the building would remain listed .

As firefighters battled Monday's blaze, nearby stores were evacuated.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

As firefighters battled Monday’s blaze, nearby stores were evacuated.

She said private owners of heritage buildings were responsible for maintenance and that there were several funding channels, including through Heritage New Zealand, that could help.

In 2017, the council granted resource consent for the owner of the building to transform it into a high-end retail and entertainment space, with a 52-room hotel.

The consent was valid for five years, but the building remained unchanged.

Building owner Alan Moyes was approached for comment, but said Thing Monday, he didn’t want to say anything about the fire.

Fire investigator Anna Gordon said the case is now in police hands and the investigation is continuing.

The owner of the building obtained resource consent in 2017 to develop it into a retail space, but no construction has started.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

The owner of the building obtained resource consent in 2017 to develop it into a retail space, but no construction has started.

A police media spokesperson said several groups of people were seen inside the building on Monday before the fire and asked anyone with information to call 105.

In March, the monument became a place of interest after the death of homeless Owen Charles Wildbore-Brumby, whose body was found near Te Marae o Hine / The Square.

Many people reported puddles of blood inside the High Flyers and feared it might contain clues to his disappearance, but police concluded in August that the death was not suspicious.

The building opened on February 5, 1906.

The Manawatū standard reported at the time that Sir Joseph Burke, who would become Prime Minister four months later, said it was the most modern post office in the country and was a sign of a prosperous future for Palmerston North.

The city council was also asked for comments.


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