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‘Old Synagogue’ building offers buyers a chance to own part of Auckland history

Tags: Commercial

A landmark historic building that was once the centre of Jewish religious life in Auckland for almost a century has been placed on the market for sale.

University House, on the corner of Princes Street and Bowen Avenue, in Auckland CBD, dates from 1885 and is currently home to the University of Auckland’s Alumni Relations and Development office.

Bayleys sales agent Cameron Melhuish says: “The 627sq m Grade 1 Heritage listed building, which functioned as the Jewish Synagogue for 84 years until it was deconsecrated in 1969, offers potential buyers the chance to add an important part of Auckland’s cultural history to their portfolio.

“Also included in the sale is the 249sq m adjoining building at 1 Bowen Avenue, which is home to one of Auckland’s leading contemporary art spaces. Together, both buildings generate an annual net rental income of $262,351 plus GST.”

Mr Melhuish and Bayleys sales agents Mike Houlker and Sunil Bhana are marketing the leasehold property for sale by tender, closing at 4pm on Thursday, April 12 (unless sold prior). “University House sits at the entrance to Auckland University campus, and visitors cannot help but be impressed by its architecture,” Mr Melhuish says.

“The interior of the former synagogue, meticulously restored in the late 1980s, is a blend Arabic and Classical styles, and boasts ornate stained-glass windows, an elliptical staircase and a decorated barrel-vaulted ceiling supported by graceful arches and columns.

“The adjoining building, which was built in 1986 and was initially used as a theatre workshop space, has housed Trish Clark Gallery since 2014. The gallery is run by renowned Auckland art dealer Trish Clark and exhibits noted New Zealand and international artists.”

The property, which is zoned Open Space – Informal Recreation under the Auckland Unitary Plan and has a ratings valuation of $4,900,000, comprises two buildings:

• 19A Princes Street, which includes two car parking spaces and generates $202,351 plus GST in annual net rental income, with built-in rent renewals. It is leased to the University of Auckland until June 2020 with two three-year rights of renewal and has a Grade B Building Seismic Rating.

• 1 Bowen Avenue, which includes one car parking space and generates $60,000 plus GST in annual net rental income, with built-in rent renewals. It is leased to Trish Clark Associates until April 2020, with one six-year right of renewal.

Both buildings sit on 1125sq m of land owned by Auckland Council in perpetuity.

The ground rent, which is payable by the tenants, is currently $93,000 plus GST a year and is reviewed every seven years, with the next review due to take place in 2022.

The ground lease term is 21 years from June 1, 2008, with a further 21-year right of renewal, and is perpetually renewable thereafter.

The ground lease structure differs notably from that of a typical ground lease with the ground rent growth likely to be limited by unique provisions within the lease, including the building's historic classification and zoning constraints.

The property is located in the heart of Auckland’s education precinct and is surrounded by buildings leased or owned by Auckland University and Auckland University of Technology. It is within easy walking distance to Queen Street and Symonds Street, both of which are well served by public transport options and offers easy access to the motorway network.

The location’s appeal is bolstered by the fact that the education precinct and the CBD provide high levels of local amenity. “The area is one of the city’s premier shopping locations and offers a wide range of cafes, restaurants and bars. Also, nearby are Aotea Square, the city’s main entertainment and arts precinct, Auckland Art Gallery and several theatres,” Mr Melhuish says.

He adds: “The jewel of the property offering is without a doubt the former synagogue, which the University of Auckland renamed University House after taking on the lease in 2003.” The synagogue, one of only two 19th Century synagogues still standing in New Zealand, was designed by noted Auckland architect Edward Bartley and built using concrete at a cost of £3000.

Bartley employed a variety of eastern motifs on the exterior while the interior included an impressive wood-panelled ceiling, Arabic arches, ornate plaster work and a stained-glass dome.

Bartley’s work had a lasting impact on Auckland’s cityscape and architecture. His other notable designs include the Auckland Savings Bank Building, on Queen Street, St John's Church, on Ponsonby Road, and the Kings Theatre, now Mercury Theatre, on Mercury Lane. The building, which could seat a congregation of 375, was Auckland’s main synagogue and focal point for the city’s Jewish community from 1885 until 1968.

It was deconsecrated in 1969, with ownership reverting to Auckland City Council, after the congregation moved to a larger, newly built synagogue on Greys Avenue, overlooking Myers Park, in 1967.

Left vacant, the building slowly deteriorated over the subsequent decades until it was given a new lease of life as a branch of the National Bank in 1989. Salmond Architects carried out an award-winning restoration as part of the building’s conversion into offices.

Mr Melhuish says: “The project involved extensive structural and strengthening work and sought to redevelop the interior spaces for office use.

“Painstaking attention was given to the revitalisation of the building’s unique character attributes, including the Romanesque and Eastern decorative motifs and stained-glass windows.”

The conservation project won Salmond Architects the inaugural Auckland City Heritage Award and a New Zealand Institute of Architects National Award citation in 1990 for successfully reconciling the tenant’s commercial requirements with the need to conserve one of Auckland’s significant landmark buildings.

Mr Melhuish says: “The property is masterful piece of Victorian architecture and is an intrinsic part of Auckland’s history which continues to play an important role in its cultural and educational life. It is fully leased to established tenants, providing an attractive cashflow to investors looking for something of worth to add to their property portfolio.”

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