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From physicist to farmer to full-time property tycoon

Antony opening the new Russley Homestead with Graham Wilkinson and Sir John Key

There are many odes to the life and work of property tycoon Antony Gough. In fact, very little investigation is required to reach the conclusion that his self confessed quirky antics and larger-than-life sartorial style are a subject of enduring pre-occupation for the press and public.  All of the attention might lead one to assume the notoriety may have gone to Gough’s head given he caught and has held popular imagination for so many years, but a relaxed meeting with the co-owner of The Russley Village sees any preconceptions quickly abandoned.

Antony explains that a retirement village was never really on his horizon. “When I met Graham Wilkinson and he explained his vision for the village, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I said I would love to be involved but we needed to be the best in the City and fortunately that is what Graham wanted also. While I have left him and his team to get on with it, I am as excited and pleased with what has been created as any of the residents. I suppose hospitality and property is just
in my blood”

As Christchurch finally reaches a significant precipice of genuine change and progress its residents have been longing for, Gough - who is at the helm of myriad transformative projects for the Garden City - talks about how he ended up in the commercial driving seat with his foot always on the accelerator.

“I had a Christ’s College education before embarking on a maths degree.” With a cheeky grin - a hallmark of his vivacious character - he continues with a fairly
cavalier attitude, “I decided this actually wasn’t for me, so completed an honours degree in nuclear physics.”  Yes, nuclear physics. A rather extraordinary beginning for a rather extraordinary man.  “At 21 years old my father asked me what I was going to do with it. I had no idea.  I ended up a computer nerd for the first 10 years of my career and my first job was as a trainee programmer for my family’s business, Gough Gough and Hamer. The mentality there was, ‘We’ll give him hell!’. By year five, I was the Data Processing Manager of 25 staff and then after five years as the manager I was up for a challenge. And I felt I was
paying too much tax,” he quips.  True to his eclectic nature, Gough took a curious step in a completely different professional direction and became a sheep farmer on 500 acres of land.  “I dabbled in property from a young age though. I invested a small inheritance I received at 21. I went straight into commercial from day one, which is quite ballsy!”  Gough purchased the Turnball Jones building with his sister - it was originally home to an electrical store that had fallen on troublesome times and they turned it into a hospitality venture. “When the rest of my family saw what I was doing - I was the youngest - we partnered up and bought property around that building and that was the start of The Strip.”

Some of Gough’s wild stories of his road to success beggar belief, but are told with such sincerity and detail that one knows they are indisputably credible.  “I call one particular incident my ‘baptism by fire’. My corner property at the top of what used to be The Strip - where The Tap Room was - it actually burnt down when we were welding the first floor. I was overseeing the entire project myself and just before this happened, I’d engaged an engineer for the one part of the building where the fire started so when insurance asked for a certificate I was able to direct them to him!” 

Gough was the first to tackle outdoor dining in the face of stringent bureaucracy and played the knight in shining armour by rescuing the Bank of Lyttelton Port
Development on Chester Street East and Madras when it was in dire straits, turning it into The Poplars Apartment Hotel and the Oasis Restaurant which he single-handedly ran. Then he did renovations on a Cashel Street building that grossly overran budget where the initial architect’s budget was $100,000 and it ended up costing over $1 million.  Gough created another boutique hotel that he called The Cashel Apartments that he also ran in additional to The Poplars Apartment Hotel. “I needed a better nightly room rate than you can get at a normal apartment.”

In short, it’s fair to say Gough leans into fear.  “When we’ve needed businesses to anchor a project, I start them - like on Cashel Street when we needed
commercial enterprise around the apartments, so we started Romance Rentals and we needed a restaurant, so we opened Cashel Thai. What I always ask myself is ‘where are my strengths and where are my weaknesses?, and I cover my backside on the latter.”

Gough is certainly the type who thinks, and more often than not, lands on his feet. But even his optimism and strategic prowess was not enough to fend off the wrath of Mother Nature. “When the earthquakes hit, we lost 12 of our buildings.” Even that monumental loss wasn’t enough to deter Gough or dampen his spirits.  “An example of one of the things we did to overcome the loss was with Shand’s Emporium. It was the oldest wooden building in the city centre, built to look like a house originally as they wanted to introduce residential property into the CBD, but it was always used as offices.  It is such an important part of Christchurch's heritage. I ended up selling it for $1! Legally we had to sell it to new owners for a price,” he laughs.  The 25 tonne building had to be lifted up at night over the tram lines and relocated to its new home. “My life is full of quirks and twists,” Gough laughs as he recounts the experience. “Under pressure, I do quite well.”

Like the time he went into battle for the right for bars to stay open until 3am.  “I submitted along with 4000 others and I wanted to talk to my submission.  I got my ten minutes of fame! I went into the Council meeting dressed as an undertaker with a black top hat, a coffin and tissues to symbolise the death of a city if they moved closing hours forward to the proposed time of 1am. Usually they have a clock going so you can only speak for a set amount of time. They turned the clock off!”  And the outcome of this theatrical showdown? “They did exactly what I asked for - set the closing time for 3am for central city bars. People have always said one person can’t make a difference.  Well, I say they can.”

In recent times, Gough has been at the helm of a major redevelopment - The Terrace - that is drawing inspiration from across the world. It will be made up of laneways like those seen in Melbourne, along with courtyards, roof terraces, retail outlets, bars, a boutique hotel, a multi-storey car park, offices and restaurants.  “We want to create something that is different but timeless. We have a piazza and lots of light. We are all about optimising the site rather than maximising it. Our pavers are all made from granite sourced from the same quarry in China that is being used for the Oxford Terrace Promenade. We have a Gingko Tree that is a 100 years old for the development that we dug up from the Lincoln University. It’s in a nursery right now - we didn’t have time to wait for a new one to grow! They take 3,000 years to mature,” he smiles.

Gough is generous on the detail, but concedes the intricate design is a story in itself, so he says, “Please come back to visit when we open in November and
let’s do another story!” 

Heeding his advice, we call our meeting a day and plan to meet in a few months to delve into more stories and an update on The Terrace.

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