Oamaru’s Catholic convent could be converted

11:38 AM Friday October 20, 2017 Colin Taylor

A 116-year-old former Catholic convent at 70 Reed St, Oamaru is for sale. Photo / Supplied

A 116-year-old former convent is for sale in the up-and-coming South Island tourist town of Oamaru with the potential conversion to visitor accommodation. 

“This is a very rare chance to own a piece of Oamaru’s history,” says Paul Vining of Savills Christchurch who, with colleague William Wallace, is marketing it for sale by tenders closing on Wednesday November 8.

The heritage-listed convent buildings, at 70 Reed St, are next to St Patrick’s Basilica - Oamaru’s Catholic church. The stately complex includes 52 rooms in two interlinked, two-level accommodation buildings (the original Rosary Convent Building and a later addition); a chapel and manicured gardens on almost 8000sq m of land.

The property was most recently occupied by a rest home, which has now moved to a new facility. 

“This opens up the opportunity for a new owner to kick off the next chapter in the convent’s long history at a time when the town is popping up on the radar of domestic and international visitors,” Vining says. “The property is in a great central location and it has huge potential, given the shortage of accommodation in Oamaru and the town’s growing tourism scene.”

He says the Waitaki District Council has approved the change of use to visitor accommodation. 

Wallace says the owner, who is selling the property to focus on other development interests, also had plans drawn up for an accommodation and events/function centre. 

“The property is being sold with consents in place for visitor accommodation, and there are plans available which the new owner could opt to proceed with. The convent would make a great venue for conferences and events, particularly weddings, which could make use of the beautiful old chapel.”

Vining says a large area of excess land on the western side of the site, behind St Patrick’s Basilica, is also suitable for future development. 

“The owner also has plans in place for four townhouses to be constructed on the Aln Street side of the property. These could be developed and either leased or sold, potentially adding significant value for the new owner.”

He says the buildings, which make up 1770sq m in total floor area, have been well maintained since the original convent building and chapel were built at the beginning of last century.

The convent and cathedral were designed by Francis Petre, an architect and civil engineer who was widely recognised for his pioneering use of concrete. His famous church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin; Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Wellington and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch, which was the outstanding achievement of his career. 

According to Heritage New Zealand, the Dominican nuns who originally occupied the convent arrived in Oamaru in the early 1880s. Their first home was a five-roomed cottage (later enlarged) which was situated at the back of the Rosary Convent. 

Between 1900 and 1912 the convent building also housed a boarding school for girls, which moved to another property in 1913. The same year, St Thomas’s Academy, a boarding school for boys, was established in the part of the building which had been vacated by the girls’ school. The nuns continued to occupy the rest of the convent.

In 1920 the chapel was built, which still features its original marble interior. St Thomas’s Academy was closed in the early 1960s. From about 1963 until the early 1980s, some rooms in the convent were occupied by St Thomas’s Girls’ Secondary School, which had been founded in 1935 by the Dominican nuns.

In the late 1980s the local polytechnic used the rooms St Thomas’s Girls’ Secondary School had once occupied. In the early 1990s the few nuns still living in the convent moved to other accommodation and the convent was sold.

In 1994, the Rendell on Reed rest home opened, which occupied the property until this year.

Wallace says Oamaru is becoming a fixture on the South Island tourism circuit making an ideal overnight stopover only three hours’ drive from Christchurch. 

“There is a clear need for investment in more accommodation, event and conference facilities to cater for Oamaru's growing visitor market,” he says.

Various well-established tourist attractions, including the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, the Steampunk Museum and the town’s well-preserved heritage buildings are contributing to increasing numbers of visitors including Oamaru on their itinerary.

According to the latest Stats NZ Commercial Accommodation Monitor, 405,864 guest nights were recorded   

in the Waitaki District for the year ending July 2017. Over this period, international guest nights rose 16.6 per cent in the Waitaki. 

Wallace says China Southern has also increased its flights into Christchurch Airport, which is benefiting the entire South Island economy.

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Paul Vining and William Wallace, Savills Christchurch