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Building Fire reignites safety concerns about abandoned Palmerston North landmark


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

Supplied/Stuff

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

A once proud building in the heart of Palmerston North is known for smashed windows, graffiti and attracting antisocial behaviour.

On Monday it also became the scene of a suspicious fire, which has reignited public pressure for the central city building to be demolished or secured.

The 114-year-old former post office on the corner of Main Street and The Square, more recently known as the High Flyers building, hasn’t been fully utilised for decades.

Palmerston North bus driver Marty Rowe​ said the dilapidated building, which sits beside the city’s bus hub, had attracted antisocial behaviour for years and something had to be done.

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Clark Ellery

Firefighters tackle blaze at iconic Palmerston North building

A section of the building had been used as a sports bar, but the last tenant moved out after the building was issued with a dangerous building notice by the Palmerston North City Council in 2016.

“There are lots of people like me working nearby, and we would all like something to be done to make us feel safer until the building’s future is decided,” he wrote in an email to Stuff.

“[It] has been seriously neglected, little has been done to secure it for several years and, frankly, I am not surprised this has happened given the amount of rubbish and debris that is believed to be inside.”

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

Firefighters tackle a blaze at the prominent High Flyers building, which occupies a large piece of Palmerston North’s CBD.

David Unwin/Stuff

Firefighters tackle a blaze at the prominent High Flyers building, which occupies a large piece of Palmerston North’s CBD.

In 2020, a metal bin was thrown from a top story window and nearly hit him while he took one of his breaks.

He told Stuff a popular theory for why the building was abandoned was that it’s heritage status stopped developers from making changes.

“It should just be pulled down or secured in the meantime… school kids wait for the bus outside, it’s a bit of a worry.”

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

The abandoned building is a hotspot for antisocial behaviour.

WARWICK SMITH/Stuff

The abandoned building is a hotspot for antisocial behaviour.

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

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

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

Building owner Alan Moyes​ has been approached for comment, but told Stuff on Monday he did not wish to say anything about the fire.

As firefighters fought Monday's blaze, nearby shops were evacuated.

WARWICK SMITH/Stuff

As firefighters fought Monday’s blaze, nearby shops were evacuated.

Fire investigator Anna Gordon said the matter was now with police and the investigation was continuing.

A police media spokesman 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 landmark became a place of interest following the death of homeless man Owen Charles Wildbore-Brumby, whose body was found nearby in Te Marae o Hine/The Square​.

The owner of the building was granted resource consent in 2017 to develop it into a retail space but no construction has begun.

WARWICK SMITH/Stuff

The owner of the building was granted resource consent in 2017 to develop it into a retail space but no construction has begun.

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

The building originally 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 it was a signal of a prosperous future for Palmerston North.

The city council has also been approached for comment.



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