Anti-social youths target art gallery

By John Cousins

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Youths terrorising visitors and staff are among a host of problems which the Tauranga Art Gallery blames on the decision to put bus stops along its Willow St frontage.

Gallery director Penelope Jackson said a public art gallery was about aesthetics and looking good. "Yet the building has aged prematurely and the culture of people it attracts at the bus stop is a turn off for visitors."

The problems caused since the bus stop was installed two years ago have been detailed in a report prepared by Ms Jackson for a meeting of the Tauranga City Council today.

Her report highlighted a number of issues which the gallery blames on the bus stop, including damage to the exterior of the building, graffiti, litter and grime, safety and security, and buses parking over the gallery's driveway.

"The bus stop area has become a gathering place for youth that have on several occasions frightened our visitors and staff."

Tourists had been escorted out of the gallery's staff entrance because they were fearful about people hanging around the bus stop, she said.

Ms Jackson said extra lighting and security cameras did not deter vandalism and bad behaviour, but police had declined including the gallery on their regular beat because of a lack of resources.

She said the police had been called on numerous occasions, with fighting on one occasion spilling into the gallery.

"Gallery staff feel particularly vulnerable at the weekends and have locked the front door to keep out unsavoury characters.

Ms Jackson said the gallery should be a place of great pride for the people of Tauranga and not look like it did now.

"We have noticed an increase in the gallery walls being used as a urinal," she said.

As for the damage and litter, she said double glazed and laminated windows had been smashed and chipped.

The building was also a regular target for taggers.

Ms Jackson said gallery staff had waterblasted grime off the area under the bus seats and up the wall because it was not being cleaned adequately by the council.

Police statistics for crime in Willow St for the first nine months of this year included 34 crimes involving drugs and anti-social behaviour, 11 crimes of violence and six each of destruction of property, drunkenness and suspicious activity.

The agenda for today's meeting lists options to try and fix the problems. One of them was to move the bus stops further up the street towards Hamilton St. The downside was that it would likely meet "strong resistance" from retailers such as Bronco's Sport and Cartridge World.

The option to shift the buses to north of Hamilton St also had strong disadvantages.

An improved cleaning regime and installing a rubbish bin will be considered, along with options to upgrade closed-circuit TV coverage of the area outside the gallery, extend camera monitoring to cover the times of 3pm to 8pm, or employ a security guard for three hours a day costing $32,000 a year.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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