An Auckland philanthropist and property investor has saved an under-threat historic city church built nearly a century ago as a memorial to World War I soldiers.
Paul Baragwanath, chair of Friends of St David's Trust, said Ted Manson (ONZM) had bought St David's Presbyterian Church, also known as the Soldiers' Memorial Church, built in 1927 on Khyber Pass Rd, Grafton.
That property was put up for sale a few months ago after the congregation was dissolved last year due to falling numbers.
Manson said today: "It came to Paul's attention in 2014 that the church may be demolished so, after discussions, we worked together constantly over a three-year period to save the church. Together, we managed to achieve a category A heritage listing, which protects the church in perpetuity. Even better now, we own it."
"New Zealand's living World War I memorial is at grave risk," the trust had announced before the purchase. "St David's, the World War I Soldiers' Memorial Church in Auckland, is under imminent threat from commercial development."
But on Saturday, Baragwanath told supporters: "The good news is that Ted Manson, patron of Friends of St David's Trust, purchased all three properties to secure St David's, so the future is looking brighter than it has for many years. Big thanks to Ted, who has supported the project to save St David's since 2015."
Manson said he didn't want to buy all three sites but he couldn't take the risk of the church falling into the wrong hands so he made an unconditional offer for all the properties which after further negotiation, was successful.
Baragwanath said funds raised here and overseas to save the church would now be applied to transferring its ownership into Friends of St David's Trust.
Baragwanath founded that entity in 2014 when the church's future became uncertain.
Manson has also bought Old St David's at 68 Khyber Pass Rd, adjacent to St David's and the Madeira Lane car park, Baragwanath said.
Bayleys advertised all three properties: the category A scheduled historic building, an "under-developed 1811sq m site with short-term holding income" and a vacant 432sq m development site with three street frontages.
Auckland Council lists 68-70 Khyber Pass Rd as valued at $13 million and 3 Madeira Lane as being worth $2.1m.
Baragwanath said Manson's purchase secured the church's long-term future as a venue for concerts, the arts, performances and events.
"The process will now begin to work out the relationship and balances between 68 Khyber Pass Rd (the development) and 70 Khyber Pass Rd (St David's Church). We very much hope that the great 120-year-old pōhutukawa tree can be retained and protected as a unique and valuable part of the new precinct," he said.
Manson said today he was "working through the best way forward, firstly with town planning to develop 68 Khyber Pass Rd and 3 Madeira Lane.
"The site the church is on is limited as to parcels, which means the title has to be resurveyed and retitled. Removing limitations will take between three and six months, worst case. As soon as I know what exactly can be built on the three sites, I will get together with Paul and the Friends of St David's to discuss the best way forward for the church," Manson said.
Baragwanath said: "In due course, we will be able to get on with addressing the significant amount of deferred maintenance on St David's – more details on this to come – to enable the doors to re-open as the St David's Centre for Music.
"This future also sees St David's continue as a living memorial to uphold the pledge New Zealanders make every year on ANZAC Day - we will remember them," he said.
This was the ultimate display of charitable giving, he said.
"Ted was the founding patron of the Friends of St David's Trust in 2014. There are 30 years of maintenance to be done and now we have the ability to do that," he said.
The Art of Remembrance campaign launched in 2015 had raised $1m and that money would be used on the church building, he said. The trust had raised $127,000 via a Givealittle page, but further was raised via private donations and pledges.
The trust would buy the church from Manson, who had bought it simply to secure it, Baragwanath said. What the purchase price would be couldn't be disclosed, he said.
The building needs a new roof, work on plumbing and electrics, masonry and strengthening of its bell tower, he said.
The property at 68 Khyber Pass Rd could possibly be developed into apartments in the popular area between Symonds St and Newmarket. But nothing has yet been announced for that site.
Manson has built hundreds of new Auckland social housing apartments, in projects worth more than $100m.
Glen Eden's Westlight twin-tower apartment blocks was opened a few months ago, following the completion of a new tower on Liverpool St in the CBD.
• Tickets for the inaugural St David's Centre concert To The Stars are now on sale