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Business investors set to wing-it as bird wildlife park goes up for sale

The land, buildings and business sustaining one of New Zealand’s iconic native bird and wildlife parks have been placed on the market for sale.

“Owlcatraz” Native Bird and Wildlife Park in the Horowhenua township of Shannon, 35 kilometres south of Palmerston North, sits on some 6.67 hectares of bushland surrounding a natural wetland catchment.

Native birds displayed in “Owlcatraz”’s purpose-built enclosures throughout the park’s mature bush and stream-fed lake include morepork, North Island weka, while the bush attracts a variety of other native bird species. Guided tours of the property also introduce guests to donkeys, alpacas, fallow deer, a pig, and cattle. Meanwhile, a variety of other small birds and animals – including a miniature horse, rabbits, and guinea pigs roam in a secluded picnic and play area.

Supporting building infrastructure on the property includes the original Shannon jail house dating back to 1911. The jail was last used to house law-breakers in 1972, when it was decommissioned. “Owlcatraz” acquired the lease for the historic building in 1996, and it now houses what is believed to be New Zealand’s biggest collection of ornamental owls – totalling more than 1000 display pieces.

Other structures on the property encompass a four-bedroom owner/managers residence, a man-made semi-submerged cavern complex leading to a 'glow worm' cave complex, a purpose-built owl enclosure, and a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed miniature railway operation - complete with its own ‘station’ and passenger platform.

Now the freehold property and going concern “Owlcatraz” Native Bird and Wildlife Park business at 44 Margaret Street in Shannon are being marketed for sale by through Bayleys Feilding. Salespeople Justin Pape, Paul Hofmann and Shelley Grieve said that while “Owlcatraz” had historically conducted guided tour to view the wildlife, the business had the potential to become a vertically-integrated hospitality operation.

Mr Pape said there were multiple business expansion opportunities for “Owlcatraz” to appeal to a much bigger market – underpinned by taking advantage of a large underutilised open grassed area overlooking the property’s bush boundary.

“With picturesque views over the mature landscaped parkland and wetland areas, the “Owlcatraz” property could be developed into a licensed events venue servicing the wedding and private functions markets out of the Manawatu and Kapiti Coast/Horowhenua regions,” Mr Pape said.

“ “Owlcatraz” currently has a basic food and beverage capacity – serving tea and coffee to visitors. However, the addition of a commercial foodservice operation – both from kitchen and front of house perspectives through the opening of a café for example - would enable the business to increase the average guided tour visitor spend considerably.

“Taking this function venue direction further along the delivery chain, there would be the potential – subject to council consents – to develop commercial accommodation units at “Owlcatraz”…. from holiday cabins or motel units, right up to glamping tents. These accommodation facilities could of course be used by guests booking gatherings at the function venue.

“Alternatively, the open flat land could support a motorhome park. While the property currently allows vehicles to park on-site, the establishment of additional amenities such as an upmarket shower block or communal kitchen, could well attract higher usage and booking rates. Construction of a communal amenities block would also sustain the needs of a glamping clientele.”

Mr Pape said the existing four-bedroom dwelling on the property could be repurposed as short-term accommodation residence – bookable through either the main “Owlcatraz” website, or third-party marketing brands such as Airbnb. There was also the option to additionally purchase a separate two-bedroom dwelling on its own title surrounded by the “Owlcatraz” land.

“Depending on the cash reserves and business plans of potential buyers, development of “Owlcatraz”’s hospitality potential could be implemented on a gradually-phased basis over a number of years, or concurrently to bring on all the potential revenue streams simultaneously – building on the business’s long-established reputation as an eco’ sanctuary,” he said.

“From an ecological perspective, there is also an opportunity for increasing the diversity of New Zealand wildlife displayed within the “Owlcatraz” experience – such as developing breeding programs or adding other species. The addition of high-country mountain animals such as tahr or chamois would also add a diversity to the farm experience.”

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