It used to be Southern Hemisphere's largest psychiatric hospital - now it is being transformed into a retirement village for hundreds of residents.

After its closure 10 years ago, the 48ha land where Levin's Kimberley Centre once was will now be home for retirees as Speldhurst Country Estate Lifestyle Village opens this week.

Horowhenua property developer Wayne Bishop and his wife, Bridget, bought the $3.85 million site from MidCentral Health nearly three years ago.

Development began in July last year.


Mr Bishop, along with his sister Debra Bishop as village manager, planned to build 500 homes over a 20-year period, providing housing for about 600 people.

Mr Bishop, also a councillor at the Horowhenua District Council, said he was concerned that lifestyle communities were increasingly built on small lands.

"I identified a gap in the market and I saw the Kimberley site as providing an opportunity for an awesome living space for older people. Grace and grandeur can replace grimness," he said.

The development will have two- to three-bedroom homes along with a community centre.

Facilities such as croquet lawns, a model railway and Riding for Disabled were already there for residents and the community to use.

Shuttles would also drop residents off in town.

"It's not suburbia. It's a park-like rural feel. People don't face the demeaning prospect of selling off most of their possessions to come into retirement. They can bring them here," Mr Bishop said.

Prices of homes range from $315,000 to $356,000 and seven have already been sold.

The development was worth an estimated $150 million and would bring in a potential $750 million to the local economy, Mr Bishop said.