Sat, Feb 3, 2024 12:00 PM

Reimagining Blenheim’s Buildings


William Woodworth

Building’s uses are being reimagined as town centres, office buildings, commercial premises and industrial facilities hunt for new residents. William Woodworth chats to entrepreneurial Marlburians breathing life into local industry.

Both began life as industrial buildings.

Central Blenheim bar 5Tapped and Burleigh-based Sawmill Studios bear signs of their previous lives.

Unique quirks, like 5Tapped’s warehouse commercial décor and Sawmill Studios’ flexibility of working spaces that come with their facilities are key to their visions, say their owners.

For Haydn Mearns from 5-Tapped, his engineering training and experience in converting commercial spaces into residential and workshop spaces came in handy for his personal pub project.

“When it came to wanting to open 5Tapped it was pretty much a given doing an existing commercial property conversion”, he explains.

“Older buildings are a better blank canvas to incorporate unique characteristics, and larger building redevelopments means multiple businesses can benefit, like Creatures of Habit barbers and Bergs Chow restaurant here.”

Haydn Mearns at Blenheim’s 5tapped. Photo: William Woodworth

The warehouse’s industrial atmosphere has helped craft a unique setting born out of two of his passions, motorcycles and engineering.

“Motorcycles were always on my mind; to involve them in the décor, and the industrial size and setting lent itself to the theme as well as hosting films, photos and live gigs,” he explains.

“The painted brickwork, roller door and wooden floors of 5tapped makes half of the decor on its own, I just had to add my own twist.”

The uniqueness of 5tapped’s atmosphere has already attracted international attention, with actors Norman Reedus and Dylan McDermott stopping in as part of season 5 of Reedus’s travel series Ride.

“These buildings used to be the industrial heart of Blenheim on the edge of town, so repurposing them to be a part of the thriving hospitality scene is a sign of a changing town,” Hadyn says.

The conversion itself was not an easy process but well worth the end result, he smiles.

“It was still quite a process, with planning, design, consents, change of zoning, adding fire exits, bathrooms and commercial kitchen facilities, wheelchair access etc – it took me 14 months to work through it but that could have been shortened with help.

“It isn’t quick or easy to do property conversions, especially for a bar, but the reward of the unique atmosphere is such a prize for doing the work”.

Over at Sawmill Studios, Stu McCormick, Random Directions’ Phil McKinnon, and The Prop Circle’s Matt Stevens reside in the former Andersons Sawmill.

The hulking building transferred from producing building materials to producing creative materials - thanks to a generous patron.

“The Sawmill Creative Society was set up so filmmakers and visual artists could collaborate and brings likeminded people into one base”, Stu says.

Stu McCormick, Phil McKinnon and Matt Stevens are glad Marlborough’s growing film industry has a multi-use space at the former Anderson’s Sawmill. Photo: William Woodworth.

Rick Osborne was kind enough to donate the Sawmill rent-free while the Creative Society explore what they can make of the studio.

Visions of the Sawmill as a film hub are underlined by Phil’s Random Directions meetings, where local filmmakers give current project updates and invite experienced film industry workers to share expertise.

“By having one base for meetings, guest speakers, local amateurs and professional outfits, we can keep developing Marlborough’s thriving filmmaking industry,” he says.

Matt, who started The Prop Circle at home, has also found having a hub has made a huge difference to his prop-making business.

“Talking daily with filmmakers about their productions, swapping ideas or just nerding out has been great all around,” he says.

“We’ve had occasions where filming is going on while paint was still drying, or we’ve had to fix something so having everything on site makes everything so much easier.”

Stu, Phil and Matt acknowledge that they are in a position of privilege with a willing landlord but spy possibilities for like-minded community groups across Marlborough.

“Obviously with the support we have with Rick being a big patron of the arts and nobody is competing for this space he wanted used, we’re not having to go through lease agreements, tender offers, zoning and other red tape”, Stu explains.

“We know that Council’s decisions have to answer to ratepayers with lots of other hoops to jump through, but for example the old library could have endless uses.

“It’s not unique to Blenheim, but we seem to have unleased shops in town and Council owns a lot of property but not seeming to do a lot with it.

“However, the Clubs of Marlborough development is promisingly underway, and hopefully that kickstarts more creative community ideas for available spaces.”

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