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Cornerstone delivers much-needed accommodation to Leamington

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The way we live is changing, and apartment living is quickly becoming the way of the future. The small town of Leamington, located in New Zealand’s Waikato region, is getting its first taste of this with the newly opened Cornerstone development. This development is the first of its type in Leamington and the third of its kind in Cambridge.

Located on the corner of Burns and Campbell Streets, the four-story mixed model development is a familyaffair. Les and Elayne O’Leary, owners of The Village @Leamington, started the project, and their son, Adam O’Leary, completed it. The project has been hampered by situations beyond the O’Leary’s control, but Adam says that it’s awesome to see his parents’ initial vision come to fruition, albeit in a somewhat altered guise.

Elayne and Les O’Leary, owners of The Village@Leamington

The idea to develop the site was seeded in 2009 when Les and Elayne, in partnership with another party, agreed to build a supermarket, a pub/tavern, and adjoining shops. They discovered, through their project manager Peter Knox, that the other party was actually bankrupt. The couple went ahead with as much of the project as they could afford, building the supermarket, pub, and four other shops. Called The Village @Leamington, Fresh Choice took up the supermarket lease, the pub became the Five Stags Tavern, and Thai Food Cambridge, Liquor Hut NZ Pizza and Kebab, and Royal Cambridge occupy the other four spaces.

Completed in 2012, it left an L-shaped section empty as there wasn’t funding available to further the development. Fast forward to 2019 and Adam was asked to help out when Peter Knox, who had taken on managing the shops, became very ill. Sadly, he passed away just before the first COVID lockdowns.

Recently returned from living and working in Scotland with his wife and two children, Adam stepped into the breach.

“When my wife and I relocated from Scotland, we decided to move to Cambridge due to its appeal. We had both already landed jobs in Hamilton, I worked full time as a senior mechanical engineer for Manta5 designing and developing hydrofoil water cycles.”

Whilst working at Manta5 and ‘part-time’ managing The Village, Adam also established Prime Solutions Limited after a sawmill in Tokoroa asked Adam to project manage the build of a bespoke crane and steam system he had designed for them while he was still in Aberdeen.

“Soon the additional contract and management work (through Prime Solutions Ltd) exceeded my available spare time, so  I resigned from Manta5 and worked for myself full time,” he says.

Managing the complex was not without its challenges; one of the lessees had deserted their shop and stopped paying rent and power.

At the same time, the original Thai restaurant was way behind on rent and Adam was left to clear it out, clean it up and get it re-leased.

Finally with good tenants in the shops, in early 2021 Adam set his eye on the section that was still undeveloped.

“I asked Les if there any plans for the remaining (undeveloped) grassed area, and I was put in charge of project managing the build of retail shops to complete the shopping centre.”

The goal was to build something to complement the shopping centre and the community.

“We wanted shops that would draw people into Leamington,” he says.

A meeting with the Waipā District Council alerted Adam to the shortfall of rental accommodation in Cambridge.

“They gave me useful contacts whom I could visit to gather more information. We went through a few ideas with the architects and a planner who proposed putting a level of apartments above the retail shops.”

In October 2021, the ground works began on the apartment development featuring 30 apartments – 12 one-bedroom and 18 two-bedroom units, seven shops on the ground floor, and a car park in the basement.

He started the development with an Auckland architect, but his eagerness to use local suppliers saw him get in touch with John Mason at Cambridge-based Construction Advantage Limited.

“I was keen to use more local companies who would have a better feel for the area and as well to help the area prosper. Construction Advantage Limited use Cambridge based companies and tradies where possible so straight away it seemed like a good fit” he says.

Construction Advantage Limited contracted Cambridge based, LAD architecture and nearby BCD Group to draft up the building structure and layout, and budget quote was provided.

COVID lockdowns and related staffing absences meant the fabrication  of the building steel-work and its painting caused a significant hold-up.

“The decision to ‘stick local’ soon paid off as local companies continued to work when they were allowed to, and soon the building framework was soon being erected. While the Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau region was still locked down,” he says.

As the build progressed and Adam’s workload tapered off, he decided to get another job as senior innovation engineer at Innovex (Tīra nda).

With the development nearing completion the work started piling up so Adam sought out the services of Accommodation Rental Solutions and managing director Nicole Anstiss.

“She had the skill and experience needed but and had also offered to take on the management of the retail shops. And Nicole has been essential at helping get the fine details and facilities of the build sorted out.”

The name of the complex was chosen by Adam from a list compiled by Frank Tian at LAD architects.

“This takes inspiration from the building being at the corner of Burns and Campbell Street, and the cladding on the ground floor is schist stone. It also sounds solid and adds a sense of importance to the building,” Frank says.

Managed by Colliers, the commercial leases include Postie, a pizza outlet, dental practice, plus a café space and two other shops are still available to be let.

“That’s new employment in the area, as well as 30 apartments of new residents in the heart of Leamington, Cambridge,” Adam says.

Adam might be breathing a sigh of relief that The Cornerstone is complete but he’s not ready to rest on his laurels just yet.

Next for Prime Solutions Limited will be a longer-term project to build much needed housing in Tokoroa with the potential development of farmland into 180 homes and affordable living options.

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