We Built This City: Stephen Collins

Not all heroes wear capes, some reinvest in a broken city. In Christchurch’s case, it’s a handful of locals who have led the city’s rebuild.

The connection between people and property can seem obvious; property touches every part of our everyday lives. It is a home for business, a playground for shoppers and long-lunchers, for gathering and connecting, and even a space where we choose to raise our families. But further to this is the connection that many forget; the link between the people who create these spaces, who design and develop buildings, structures and sometimes even cities for people to live, work, play and shop. Property shapes cities, creating communities and building legacies.

Today, we’d like to recognise just a handful of those city shapers, who kickstarted the regeneration of Christchurch.

 

Stephen Collins

151 Cambridge Terrace

Often billed as a ‘Christchurch property tycoon’, Stephen was perhaps best known for his leadership of Harcourts, taking the company from 14 real estate offices across the country to more than 900 offices worldwide.

Born in Christchurch, Stephen left school at 15 for a signwriting apprenticeship before heading across the ditch to make (and lose) a small fortune in the stockmarket. It was this lesson in risk that pre-empted his move to property, opening Collins Real Estate in Christchurch at the age of 26.

Collins took what was to become Harcourts following a merger in 1985 from a small enterprise to a global player, in the process creating a name for himself as a strong leader who put people at the heart of everything he did.

One can only imagine the devastation he felt when the February earthquake struck in 2011, decimating the PGC building, which Collins owned, and killing 18 people. While many would be tempted to take their insurance cheque elsewhere and start fresh, Stephen chose to stay and commit to building what would become one of the city’s safest buildings, 151 Cambridge Terrace (also known as the Deloitte Building).

The base-isolated six-storey building is a lasting legacy of his commitment to the city and to the safety and security of his tenants. Such was the success of the project that there was an ongoing joke in the city when it opened that it “had more centrefolds than Cindy Crawford”. The project heralded a new beginning for the city and stands tall in Stephen’s memory in addition to an impressive 40-year career, having passed away in June 2019 at the age of 72.

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