Ryman buys Victoria University's Karori campus for retirement development

The Karori campus was developed to cope with the large numbers of baby boomers in tertiary education in the 1960s.

Ryman Healthcare, New Zealand's largest retirement village operator, has bought Victoria University of Wellington's former Karori campus for an undisclosed sum to convert into a retirement village.

The development in Wellington's largest suburb will add to Ryman's existing five retirement villages in the greater Wellington area, the company said in a statement. It said the purchase price was confidential and didn't provide details on when the development was expected to start but said it would consult widely with local people, community groups, Heritage New Zealand and local iwi.

The Karori campus was developed to cope with the large numbers of baby boomers in tertiary education in the 1960s, and Victoria University became the owner of the assets of the College of Education by merger in 2004. Victoria has said the site was too isolated and disconnected from its main hub in the central city, and was declared surplus to requirements in August 2016. The sale has been contentious with local community groups who use the facilities, and media reports have highlighted that the campus was transferred to the university in 2014 for $10 but could now be worth $20 million.

Ryman and other New Zealand retirement village operators are acquiring land and preparing for a record building spree in anticipation of increased demand as people born in the country's post-war era reach the target age for operators, with the number of people aged over 75 set to more than double in the next 30 years. Ryman has 31 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia and said the Karori site appealed because of a shortage of care in the area.

"It could be a great quirk of history if a site that was built for the baby boomers could now be converted into a community asset for them," Ryman development manager Andrew Mitchell said. "We think they deserve to be able to remain in the communities they helped create as they age and their health needs change, rather than having to move to find appropriate care."

Ryman plans to convert the campus into a retirement village offering independent and serviced apartment living options as well as hospital, rest-home and dementia-level care, it said.

Its shares last traded at $10.35 and have gained 21 percent over the past year.

Victoria University said two early childhood centres on the Karori campus site have been transferred to the Ministry of Education and the Wellington City Council has bought some of the campus land for carparks for the Karori swimming pool. Other residential properties on the campus have been offered back to the original owner or their successor or sold on the open market, it said.

The university said interest from the proceeds of those sales has been used to create a scholarship programme for students from disadvantaged communities.

The proceeds from the sale of the rest of the campus will be used for further strengthening the university's buildings and the future provision of modern facilities for Victoria's Faculty of Education, which is now operating from temporary facilities on the University's Kelburn campus, it said.


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