Auckland University describes its intention to purchase the 5.2ha former Lion Breweries site in Newmarket as its most significant property acquisition in a generation.
Just a few weeks ago, it's understood university staff were told any purchase was just rumour but today Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon confirmed the university has entered into a conditional agreement to purchase the land. A final decision will be made once due diligence is undertaken, and a decision on whether to go unconditional will be made at the April 2013 University Council meeting.
If the sale does go ahead, the old Lion site will become a mixed-use campus, with purpose-built teaching and research facilities, as well as student accommodation and other facilities.
AMP tried to buy the site last decade for about $160 million but decided against it when the global financial crisis hit, leaving Lion with the land, after the brewery and food business shifted its hub to South Auckland.
The aim is to see the country's largest and highest-ranking university consolidating its activities at its city, Grafton and Newmarket campuses. It would exit the Tamaki campus - long a bugbear for staff and students having to travel between campuses for classes - to help pay for the new site. The university's Tamaki campus would shift to Newmarket and its Epsom campus to the city.
McCutcheon says the proposed site presents a major new opportunity that will be integral to the University's growth strategy for the next 50 years.
"To support and sustain our ambitious growth path, the university needs to build or acquire additional space at a rate of about 6000m2 of gross floor area per annum for the foreseeable future. In 2008 we consulted widely on, and subsequently adopted, a plan to concentrate our academic activities on the city and Grafton campuses."
He says those two campuses can only sustain only 10-15 years of growth.
"The Newmarket site provides a significant opportunity for the University [and] the opportunity to integrate campus development; shared major transport routes with the city and Grafton campuses; and additional space for student accommodation and other facilities ..."
The Newmarket Business Association says the move would be great news for the area.
Chief executive Ashley Church praised the University for its proactive approach in consulting with local stakeholders about its plans for the site and says there has already been a "meeting of minds" in terms of future development.
"Newmarket is a logical location for a campus [with] exceptional transportation links... significant opportunities for public/private educational partnerships; and some of the best retail and commercial services in New Zealand."
He says that the proposed development of the site will revitalise the north eastern end of Newmarket and bring forward badly needed infrastructural and traffic improvements.
University Chancellor Roger France says the University Council is enthusiastic about the prospect of acquiring the Newmarket site.
"This is a wonderful opportunity not only to secure the university's growth path for the foreseeable future on a site close to the existing campuses, but also for the redevelopment of a site that is of critical importance to the city."
Peter M writing on the Auckland Transport Blog says the site is perfect for a university because of its links to traffic infrastructure.
"From a public transport perspective, this site is absolutely ideal - especially as university students are absolutely massive users of PT. Grafton Station is almost in the site at its western end, Newmarket station isn't too far from its eastern end and what is probably close to Auckland's busiest bus corridor along Khyber Pass Road runs along the southern side of the site," he writes. "The opportunities to integrate the redevelopment with Grafton Station are particularly exciting. What this proposal clearly does is highlight the growing importance of Grafton Station to the network."
The University of Auckland has more than 40,000 students across its campuses, around 32,000 in full-time study. This week it was again rated New Zealand's leading university in the latest rankings published by QS World University Rankings. It sits at 83rd in the world, the first in New Zealand and 8th in Australasia.
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