A developer with extensive experience investing in major cities overseas wants to turn the old Whanganui Chronicle building on Taupo Quay into 20 luxury apartments.

John Hay, who moved to Whanganui with his two children 18 months ago, bought the building with a vision of "stylish new one and two-bedroom homes".

"I personally think that Whanganui is a real hidden gem," he said.

when you're living in a place and you see opportunities you've got to kind of step up and have a go

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"The river itself I think is a huge attraction. I walk along there every day with the dog and it's a beautiful, beautiful river. You see the kids rowing in the morning ... it's really quite inspiring."

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Hay, who's 70, moved to Whanganui to retire. "But when you're living in a place and you see opportunities you've got to kind of step up and have a go," he said.

Born in Wellington, Hay has been a property developer for about 40 years and has developed apartment style properties in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States with his company Bridgewater Estates.

When he moved to Whanganui a lot of people told him the city needed a five star hotel and inner city apartments.

The building was bought six months ago and the developer said he considered everything that was available in the city.

"This building, which had been vacant for many years, became available for sale and we looked at repurposing it to inner city apartments - to see if it could be done.

"That was six months ago and it's taken us that long to get to this stage to find out whether it can be done or it can't be done ... pleased to say it can."

The building has been home to the Whanganui Chronicle and before that housed New Zealand Railways.

He said they had 12 months to make the project a reality and were now halfway. There were still some obstacles to overcome.

According to the district plan, residential properties are not allowed on the ground floor.

The access to it is still a reserve and not a dedicated road and that had to be sorted out before they applied for resource consent.

Hay said there were also concerns about the building's earthquake strength and engineers were working through that at the moment.

The council had been very helpful and had a team working to get the project across the line, Hay said.
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John Hay hopes to turn the old Whanganui Chronicle building into residential apartments.
John Hay hopes to turn the old Whanganui Chronicle building into residential apartments.

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Hay's hope is to create a market for inner city living in Whanganui using other heritage buildings.

"A very high percentage of New Zealand's heritage buildings are located in Whanganui. You've got to think about a use for them otherwise they're going to sit vacant, people are going to get annoyed ... and they're going to fall to bits.

"Here's an opportunity to create a market for inner city housing and if that's successful it can sort of duplicate itself into other vacant buildings around town."

Hay has also bought the old printing press building and is considering putting a boutique hotel in the space where the building stands but that is not an immediate pursuit.

They were still in the process of deciding what the price band might be for the apartments. Hay said he'd know the cost of the apartments at the end of this week.

"It's not social housing, but hopefully it will be an affordable option for people who want a brand new apartment in downtown Whanganui."

What the waterfront building that has housed the Whanganui Chronicle and New Zealand Railways could become.
What the waterfront building that has housed the Whanganui Chronicle and New Zealand Railways could become.
The plan would result in the building being turned into 20 one and two-bedroom apartments.
The plan would result in the building being turned into 20 one and two-bedroom apartments.

He said they would be ideal for single people or the 50 plus age group.

"I think it's just a natural progression. Seattle for instance, when I was there it was as flat as a pancake. You could buy brand new apartments for $100,000. Portland was as dead as can be. Even major cities go through that.

"You can't have all the lovely cafes and bars and shops if there's nowhere for people to live. A lot of people now choose to be single longer so if we create affordable space for them in Whanganui it will just liven the whole town up. If you want to employ people in Queenstown at the moment they've got to drive 30 kilometres to get somewhere to stay.

"We have that opportunity of creating living spaces for people that want to live and work in the city and I think that's a real opportunity."