University of Wollongong sells properties as Covid bites

The University of Wollongong (UOW) will consolidate student accommodation from 2022 and release surplus assets onto the region’s buoyant property market in a move certain to benefit the local economy while strengthening the University’s capacity to continue to respond to the financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UOW’s International House, Weerona College and Marketview residences will be offered for sale commencing mid-August with the transaction expected to be completed by early 2022.

The decision to sell the properties was made by the UOW Council after assessing the University’s strategic priorities.

Proceeds from the sales will be used to support UOW’s financial sustainability, enabling the university to maintain the capacity of its core teaching and research programs and to help strengthen support for students through enhanced services and technologies.

Of the three properties, International House and Weerona College have not operated as student residences since late last year when COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented the return of international students, forcing their closure. Consequently, there are no current residents in these buildings to be directly impacted by their sale.

Marketview, which has continued to operate with a lower occupancy rate during 2021 compared to previous years, will close only after current residents’ tenancy contracts expire in January 2022.

There will be no job losses in UOW’s Accommodation Services as a result of the sale, with affected staff being redeployed to other residences.

UOW Chief Operating Officer, Damien Israel, said the sales were a financial decision in response to COVID-19 that will benefit students, the University and the community, without directly impacting on any students’ current accommodation arrangements.

“Since the pandemic began, the University has acted decisively by reassessing our priorities, reducing operational costs, increasing our digital operations and tightening our expenditure controls. These measures, together with the efforts and sacrifices of staff, have enabled UOW to make positive progress towards recovering from the challenges of COVID-19.

“We value the long history of Weerona College and International House as part of the UOW community but the dramatic changes in the higher education landscape have been reflected in our occupancy rates, which has prompted this decision.

“Consolidating our student residences into on campus buildings at the Wollongong and Innovation campuses where we have plenty of capacity for our foreseeable accommodation needs creates a stronger sense of community and connectedness that enhances students’ living experience. It also reduces demand on parking and public transport by alleviating the need for students to transit to and from campus to attend classes or use facilities.

“We will ensure current Marketview residents can see out their existing tenancy contracts without any disruption before the facility closes and we will offer them assistance to move into one of our on campus residences or to find alternative accommodation.

“As well as supporting the University’s overall financial position, these sales will also enable continued investment in our teaching, learning and research capacity, one of our key objectives since the pandemic began.

“With sufficient capacity available in our on campuses residences to meet foreseeable demand, it makes sense to release these prime real estate assets onto the local market so new owners can put them to good use when there is a growing demand for well-located housing, hotel accommodation and community facilities.

“Once acquired by new owners, these properties have potential to yield significant benefits for the local economy and community,” Mr Israel said.

Significant potential and strong demand anticipated

The Marketview building, which operated as a hotel before being acquired by UOW in 2011, could attract interest from hotel operators interested in providing much-needed capacity close to Wollongong’s CBD and beaches.

International House, located on a 1 Hectare site in a popular residential area adjacent to North Wollongong Railway Station, offers considerable potential for a range of housing uses.

As Weerona College is surrounded by the Beaton Park sports complex and conveniently located between the CBD, West Wollongong and Gwynneville Village, it also offers significant potential for a range of uses.

The University has engaged Knight Frank agents Ben Mostyn, James Mulcair and Tim Holtsbaum to market the properties for sale via an international expressions of interest campaign.

Mr Mostyn said he expected there would be strong demand for the assets from both overseas and domestic buyers as Wollongong is one of Australia’s best performing residential markets becoming more attractive to investors, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The properties are all well-located quality assets with the added benefit of offering upside through development potential,” he said.

Knight Frank can be contacted on 02 4227 2111 or at www.knightfrank.com.au

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