Donation puts Elms on track to build visitor centre

By Joseph Aldridge

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Plans for a $4 million visitor centre showcasing an important part of Tauranga's settler history have moved a step closer to becoming a reality.

Earlier this year, The Elms Foundation secured a deal to purchase a property on the corner of Mission and Chapel streets; the last outstanding block of the original mission station not owned by the foundation.

A deposit of $250,000 was paid using money earmarked for a visitor education and information centre and now the first 50 per cent of the remaining $700,000 can be paid thanks to a grant by gaming trust Pub Charities.

The $350,000 was by far the biggest donation given to a Tauranga organisation by Pub Charities in its latest round of grant awards, announced publicly last weekend.

Chairman Jeff Major said the donation took The Elms Foundation one step closer to its goals of establishing a world-class visitor centre on freehold land.

Originally the foundation had planned to establish the centre on the eastern boundary of its property. However, the latest property acquisition, which came unexpectedly, offered a much better location for the centre, Mr Major said.

"Firstly, it affords us a view over the whole property, it gives us the opportunity to make the place secure, which is a key issue for us, and it will enable us to bring many of the artefacts that are stored in the council storage facility at The Mount across to here so that we can display them appropriately on a rotational basis."

The visitor centre and education centre would allow The Elms to display more of its collection of 12,000 artefacts and tell the story of the mission station through a short movie. The centre would include a 50-seat theatre.

"The long-term strategy is to make The Elms viable without impacting on its heritage and its integrity. The strategy is to introduce a level of commercial activity that is in keeping with the property, it must always be protected in terms of what it is," Mr Major said.

"The history of this place is incredible but we're not doing it justice."

The Elms Mission Station was significant in New Zealand's history because it was the oldest lived-in family home in New Zealand and truly represented early settler life, Mr Major said.

"It plays an important part in New Zealand's history and I'm of the view that if it's not better than the Treaty House at Waitangi, it's equal and it certainly has a lot more artefacts stored or on display in the limited facilities that we have at the moment and that makes it unique and a one only in New Zealand."

Mr Major said the foundation would be seeking funding assistance from central government in order to achieve its goals.

Minister of Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson recently visited The Elms and encouraged the board of trustees to apply for funding from the Ministry.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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