Heritage-listed Blue Mountains convent primed for resurrection
During its 111-year history, a heritage-listed landmark in Katoomba has served as a school, convent and a creative arts centre. Now the hope is that a new owner will bring the rundown property in New South Wales’ picturesque Blue Mountains back to life.
The former Renaissance Centre, originally the Mount St Mary’s College and Convent, is on the market for a price expected to exceed $6 million.
While the unique property needs a lot of work, the selling agents at Colliers argue there are almost endless possibilities for the 17,838sqm site’s development, even taking into account the heritage considerations.
“With this property, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Colliers manager, investment services, Nick Estephen said.
“It is up to somebody with a vision that they think Katoomba needs and how they can fill a gap in the Katoomba market.”
The Blue Mountains’ position as a tourism drawcard is expected to appeal to buyers amid rising demand for tourism and leisure assets in regional areas as Australians holiday at home.
Colliers associate director, investment services, Thomas Mosca described the opportunity as a beautiful blend of heritage and future potential.
“The current owners once put it beautifully, that they are the current custodians of the land and their time as custodians is coming to an end and they want to pass it on to somebody who is willing to give this site the justice it deserves,” Mr Mosca said.
A local landmark of historical significance
The heritage-listed building served as the Mount St Mary’s College and Convent run by Australia’s first order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity, after opening in 1910.
The girls’ college eventually closed in 1974, with the school passed to the Sydney Catholic archdiocese, which ran the property as a conference centre and camp retreat.
In the 1980s, the main building was restored and converted into the Renaissance Centre, operating as a creative arts centre until 1992.
But the site at 10-14 Civic Place, which Mr Estephen said is one of the largest land holdings close to the Katoomba train station, has been underutilised for almost 20 years.
The former Renaissance Centre was added to the NSW heritage list in 2003, in recognition of its significance as a Catholic school and Sisters of Charity convent and its long association with education.
“Apart from its historical significance, the building has representative aesthetic significance as a large and individual example of the Federation Free Classical style, which in this case has been used in a relatively unusual context,” the heritage listing stated.
“It is an important and distinguished landmark in this part of Katoomba, with an imposing sense of scale.”
The former Renaissance Centre features elaborate great hall rooms, a chapel, classrooms, residences, bell tower and outdoor courtyards.
A unique development opportunity
Mr Mosca said the property is a rare opportunity offering heritage as well as a large and diverse development site.
“These assets are once-in-a-lifetime – they’re unique, they don’t make properties like this anymore,” he said.
Mr Mosca said the 17,838sqm of land was spread across three titles, with flexible residential zoning and a range of uses allowed if the heritage aspects are restored and brought back to life.
“The zoning on the property permits several uses including backpackers’ accommodation, boarding houses, centre-based childcare, dual occupancies, function centres, hotel or motel accommodation, place of worship and much more,” he said.
Mr Mosca said Colliers expected interest from a diverse range of buyers including religious, charity, aged care, heritage, government and educational groups.
The site, which was last sold in 2014, was approved for the construction of 122 independent living units in 2005 but that aged care development did not go ahead.
The listing comes at a time when heritage-listed and older-style properties have been attracting interest on realcommercial.com.au.
As previously reported on realcommercial.com.au, REA Group chief economist Nerida Conisbee said appreciating how lovely a property might look is one of the factors that helps drive online interest in heritage-style properties.
“That leads into the second element, which is, for a particular demographic of developers, those looks matter for aesthetic and financial reasons,” Ms Conisbee said.
“Those developers know a beautiful facade, often found with historical properties, will make a finished apartment project more desirable to buyers.”
Mr Estephen, who was involved in the 2019 sale of the St Joseph’s Convent in Broken Hill back to the Catholic Church, said a range of groups were interested in heritage properties.
“The interest comes from a variety of opportunistic investors, developers and even the likes of community organisations that look at restoring the heritage aspect of it and utilising it for a future use.
“When there is excess land like there is on this site, there is additional value that always can be added to the site.”
The international expression of interest campaign for the former Renaissance Centre closes on 1 April.