Here's What It Takes To Build Cemeteries, According To A Sydney Property Entrepreneur

An artist’s rendition of Acacia. Source: Supplied

Sydney property developer Robert Itaoui is preparing to sell his first cemetery after five years’ work and “early millions” of dollars in investment.

Itaoui last month began seeking expressions of interest for his company Zinnia Group’s 10-hectare burial park in Bringelly in Sydney’s south west. The site could be operational as early as 2015.

Zinnia Group is looking to sell the so-called Acacia Remembrance Sanctuary to an operator who will manage some 19,212 burial plots and 25,100 ash internments, a cafe, catering facilities, venue hire and funeral services to reap potential earnings of $250 million over 25 years.

Itaoui, who previously spent more than a decade running child care and a healthcare supply chain business, said death care was a billion dollar industry ripe with new business opportunities that had been left untapped because it was an “industry that was very dark”.

While he declined to disclose his target sale price for Acacia, here’s what he said the development involved:

  • “Intense studies” of the business opportunity and how Acacia’s operator might replicate overseas successes like the Greenacres Woodland Burials Group in Britain. Itaoui said the studies, which involved specialist consultants, accounted for a large part of Zinnia’s costs.
  • Obtaining the approval of regulatory authorities. This was a challenge as the project and its aims were “all new to everyone”.
  • Establishing financial accounts so that Acacia would have the funds to continue sustaining itself even at full capacity. Acacia is likely to collect most its money from upfront charges, so its revenue stream will be limited once the cemetery is full. A percentage of every transaction will go into an arms-length endowment fund to ensure that it can support itself in the long term.
  • Designing Acacia’s ecologically sensitive landscape, which features concrete instead of granite pathways and commits to preserving the local Cumberland Plain Woodland, which houses more than 30 bird species.

Acacia is Zinnia Group’s first development. Itaoui said it was inspired by “three guarantees in life: death, taxes and change”.

The park targets baby boomers and “more secular attitudes towards dying and memorialisation”. The operator is expected to support social media pages, webcasting, and GPS tracking.

While people currently choose a burial or internment plot through a funeral director or religious organisation, Acacia is intended to be booked directly.

“Demand for burial sites in Sydney is fast outstripping supply, with increasing pressure being placed on these key pieces of social infrastructure mainly due to our ageing population,” Itaoui said, highlighting a 12% annual rise in land values across Sydney’s six major cemeteries in the last 5 years.

“Projections show that 245,000 additional burial sites will be required in Sydney by 2020 and that Sydney’s existing cemeteries will reach capacity by 2035.”

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