Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's deputy chief of staff

High school dropout to $75m property baron

Little-known developer thanks the 16-hour days of his coffee-bar-owning mum - now 92 - for his work ethic.

One of Andy Davies' best-known projects is Ponsonby Central,  the market-like complex that houses retailers and an eclectic mix of eateries. It's where he has his office. Photo / Dean Purcell
One of Andy Davies' best-known projects is Ponsonby Central, the market-like complex that houses retailers and an eclectic mix of eateries. It's where he has his office. Photo / Dean Purcell

On paper, it looks like Andy Davies owns half of Auckland. In real life, the $75 million-plus man wears holey jerseys, lives in a Freemans Bay "do-up" and is not above mixing concrete, dressed in shorts, with his workers on construction sites.

The little-known 55-year-old is now one of the country's biggest private property developers, and is selling off six buildings from his multi-million-dollar portfolio to build Ponsonby's largest carparking building, and luxury student flats in the city.

It's not bad for a man who dropped out of high school and started his career working in a menswear shop.

Mr Davies owns more than 50 titles around Auckland, as well as a holiday home in Waihi. They have a combined value of $74.6 million, according to the most recent sales prices or valuations - although those values were set almost three years ago so he's likely to be worth millions more.

And then there's the luxury beachfront villas he bought and renovated in Puerto Vallarta, a resort city on the northwestern Mexican coast.

He won't reveal what he paid for Villas Enrique, but to get an idea of what they might be worth, you only need to look at pictures on the website showcasing the swimming pools attached to each room, the soft Persian rugs, the ocean views and cascading water fountains.

The main, six-bed villa is rented out at US$1750 ($2145) a night in the holiday season, and Mr Davies says a Hollywood producer who specialises in reality TV once paid $17,000 for a week's stay.

His portfolio is varied.

Probably some of his best-known projects include Ponsonby Central, the market-like complex on Ponsonby Rd that houses retailers Wallace Cotton and Zoo Warehouse, as well an eclectic mix of eateries.

It's there that Mr Davies has his headquarters - a small office overlooking the development.

Further down the road, he owns the block that houses Mexico, Premier Drycleaners and designer Juliette Hogan's store.

164 and 166 Ponsonby Road Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
164 and 166 Ponsonby Road Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

Across the road, he owns the strip of buildings that start at Masons Menswear and finish at the New York-style Mea Culpa bar, with designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet's World and Japanese eatery Renkon in between.

179 Ponsonby Road Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
179 Ponsonby Road Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

For 10 years, he has owned the Naval & Family building on Karangahape Rd, which houses strip club Calendar Girls, as well as the building down the road, formerly housing 24 Seven Bar. It now hosts gay bar Legend and Cameron's Tavern.

He turned a former convent on Herne Bay's Shelly Beach Rd into 40 rooms of luxury student accommodation, as well as 32 rooms in a former fire station on Pt Chevalier Rd. Both are under his Unistay brand.

Then there are the 28 flats around the corner on Beresford Ave, three units on Collingwood St in Freemans Bay, flats in Mt Eden and a 40ha plot in Rawene in the Far North.

He also owns the Mt Albert Motor Lodge. And that's not to mention the properties he's bought, renovated and sold on, including the Mantell's function centre in Mt Eden, the old telephone exchange building.

Mr Davies is selling the Calendar Girls building, as well as a corner site in central Mt Eden, and five other commercial properties around the city to free up some money to build a third student building, Unistay Central. The 11- to 12-storey block - a $12 million development - will sit in the carpark behind Cameron's Tavern. Building is expected to start in June.

The bar will be turned into a student bar, with a backpackers upstairs. The portfolio is being looked after by Bayleys real estate agent Leah de Hood, who used to work for Mr Davies. She's on the hunt for an operator to run the backpackers.

And Mr Davies' new carparking building in Ponsonby will feature 107 parks on two levels under Ponsonby Central.

But despite his growing fortune, he isn't showy with his own digs. He has a holiday home in Waihi but lives in a three-bedroom property in Freemans Bay. It has a valuation of $1.37 million because of its central location and 491sq m size but Mr Davies says it needs a lot of work.

But that's his thing, he says. Doing up old places and making them sing.

Until recently, Mr Davies drove a "beat-up old station wagon", but has upgraded to a new Audi RS 4.

He gave the station wagon to his niece, who is pregnant, and bought her a house - a former blood bank on Herne Bay's Albany Rd, which he is renovating for her.

When the Herald visited Mr Davies' office, he was wearing a shirt with the first few buttons undone.

"I walked in this morning and everyone asked me who had died," he said. "I never wear a collar and a tie, I'm usually in my old T-shirts, but thought I better dress up today."

Born in Nottingham, Mr Davies migrated with his parents to New Zealand when he was 7.

His mother, Averill Davies - now 92 and in a rest home - owned 26 coffee shops around the city. "A typical day would be school, then back to the shop to work, do my homework, and home at 8pm," he says.

School was never for him. He got kicked out of an Auckland public school and was then asked to leave the decile-10 St Kentigern College when he was 15. But he did show an early business ethic.

"I had a few businesses at school which were probably not legal," Mr Davies jokes. "I'm not an academic. The principal said, 'We think you should go,' and I said, 'Thank God, that's what I've been saying'."

By 17, he was back in London, working in pubs and menswear stores. But it was back to New Zealand at age 22.

It was 1980 and he struggled to find a flat to rent in Grey Lynn, so decided to buy one. He needed $3500 for a deposit and law firm Keegan, Alexander, Tedcastle and Friedlander (now Keegan Alexander) stumped up the rest for the $17,500 do-up villa.

Five months later, with little renovations, he sold the place for $36,000. "And then bought two more. I thought, 'Oh my God, this is easy.' And it continued like that."

To pay off the mortgages, Mr Davies "worked like a dog". He had a cleaning business called Busy Bees with former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick's sister Anna, and he developed a range of men's shirts which were "a complete flop" because they shrank to half in the wash.

He got his real estate licence and set up Ponsonby Real Estate, before selling it to L.J. Hooker. He was 42 and decided to retire on the sale money, but found he was unable to sit still.

He moved to Sydney with his then gay partner, Jan Bernau, an architect who still works with him, having recently designed the new Unistay apartments. "It was a midlife crisis," Mr Davies says. "I'd been working all my life. We were just partying [in Sydney], lying on the beach. But I was flying back every two weeks and still doing deals. I thought, 'You know what, I'm over this'."

He believes his work ethic came from his mother. She would work 16-hour days and was good to her staff. When he was setting up Ponsonby Central two years ago, she would bring huge trays of pies and cakes for the builders.

"But she would always want her containers back," Mr Davies jokes.

So what's next? He recently went apartment hunting in London. He loves the city, but not the winters, and wants a pad when he visits during the English summers.

- NZ Herald

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