Landmark a trophy investment

By Colin Taylor

The mixed use property is blessed with an easily accessible site and all-day sun.
The mixed use property is blessed with an easily accessible site and all-day sun.

Onehunga's handsome old post office has stamp of approval as an attractive purchase for investors.

The old Onehunga post office building at 120 Onehunga Mall is to be sold by auction presenting the opportunity for an investor to buy the historic building with a national brand tenant on board signed up to a long lease.

The striking 1902 brick character building, an early example of Edwardian baroque post offices, was designed by architect John Campbell during nationwide post office construction in the early 20th century.

Registered as a Category Two historic property by the Historic Places Trust, the landmark building was restored and seismically strengthened in 1994. It underwent further refurbishment in 2003 by the current owner and is now home to a flagship Columbus Coffee outlet on the ground floor and an office tenant on the first floor.

The 587sq m freehold property is for sale by auction through John Davies and Peter Kermode of Colliers International and will go under the hammer on May 23, unless it is sold before the auction date.

Columbus Coffee pays about $91,500 in net annual rent and has the right to renew its lease for two further terms of five years each once the initial 10-year period is up.

The upstairs office tenancy generates $41,300 net a year on a newly-negotiated periodic tenancy agreement, with the current occupiers having rented it for six years.

"This office is actually a beautifully refurbished four bedroom apartment, which has the flexibility to be leased to residential or commercial tenants should the current occupier move out," Davies says.

An outbuilding adjacent to the ground floor garden provides further potential to add value.

John Bowring, Colliers International's national auction manager, says the sale should appeal to buyers who will view it as a chance to acquire a trophy commercial property investment and a piece of New Zealand's history, along with the prospect of a secure long-term cash flow.

"An iconic building such as this should be an ongoing solid performer as a buy-and-hold investment," Bowring says.

"The sub $5 million prime investment market in Auckland is also very strong, with growing demand from the international community, and we expect to see a strong turnout on auction day from both local and national investors."

Davies says the interior of the building has been refurbished to a high quality standard with sensitivity to the old building's character.

"Features such as polished wood floors, sash windows, decorative columns and beams, panelled ceilings, carved hallway arches and original fireplaces have been retained and restored throughout.

"Columbus provides a strong tenant covenant, having first opened on High St in central Auckland in 1995 and then opening outlets nationwide," Kermode says.

"Columbus is credited with kick-starting the "cafe culture" in Auckland in the Nineties and has set the standard that other cafes have aspired to since."

Now a nationwide franchise operation, Columbus' success was recently recognised at the Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards, where it took out two awards: Franchise System of the Year Supreme Winner; and Food and Beverage System of the Year Winner.

The Onehunga cafe trades exceptionally well, says Kermode.

"It is very busy with locals at the weekend and strongly patronised by businesspeople during the week. The cafe benefits from its corner site location which attracts both morning and afternoon sun. Customers particularly like the attractive landscaped garden seating area out the back.

"Columbus is very happy with this location, which is why they have signed a new 10-year lease committing to the premises."

Onehunga's first post office was opened in the mid-19th century and, following the settlement's development into the largest port on the Manukau Harbour, the office was referred to as "the chief medium of communication between Auckland and the south".

The current building was erected in a prominent position among other public buildings which included a police station, courthouse and borough council building.

"It is said that the postmaster would spot the approach of the mail ships from a viewing platform on the post office roof and send a horse and carriage down to the port to meet the ships," Kermode says.

The Onehunga post office was one of the first in which John Campbell incorporated baroque elements, signifying the emergence of the Edwardian baroque style that he went on to develop and repeat as part of the hallmark appearance of post offices throughout New Zealand.

The main facade includes a central gable and three bays, with pilasters, pediments and a rusticated door surround. The building's combination of public offices and private accommodation was common in commercial buildings of the time.

The post office rooms were located on the ground floor, while the postmaster's living quarters were upstairs.

The building operated as a post office for more than 70 years, serving as a focal point for the local community and providing essential public services that included mail delivery, banking and telegraph facilities.

In 1975, a new post office was opened on the opposite side of Onehunga Mall.

The earlier post office then stood mostly vacant until 1983, when it was sold to a private owner who opened a shop and accountant's office there. It was threatened with demolition in the early 1990s but survived due to enthusiastic support from the community.

- NZ Herald

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