John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Sore sight: Mount's visitor centre a runner for iSite

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A new i-Site could be built on the site of the old Mount Maunganui visitor information centre.
A new i-Site could be built on the site of the old Mount Maunganui visitor information centre.

The site of Mount Maunganui's former visitor information centre has emerged as the frontrunner for a new i-Site to serve as the gateway for cruise ship passengers and the hub for other visitors to the Mount.

The irony was not lost on Tauranga councillor Catherine Stewart yesterday as the council debated increasing Tourism Bay of Plenty's permanent funding by $150,000, plus an extra $150,000 to improve the tired appearance of the temporary port-side information and booking centre for cruise ship passengers.

Cr Stewart recalled how the Mount's former visitor information centre in Salisbury Ave had been closed by Tourism BOP in 2012 because it was losing too much money.

"It's ironic we are going back to the location of the original i-Site," she said.

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Tourism BOP's general manager Rhys Arrowsmith said it had been closed for the right reasons - the financial survival of the organisation. The position, size of the set-up and road flow had not been right.

The new plan to co-locate the i-Port and i-Site into a new building seemed logical, he said.

The council agreed that its preferred option was to replace the temporary i-Port with a new "hub/gateway visitor information centre" in the area of the former i-Site. It also agreed to budget $100,000 to fund design and consents for new visitor facilities in Tauranga.

Yesterday's decision will go out for public consultation as part of the council's 2016-17 Annual Plan. The $100,000 would be loan funded and the $300,000 sourced from the targeted economic development rate on Tauranga businesses.

The proposed new i-Site in Salisbury Ave would probably require the demolition of the former visitor information centre that was now home to the Spongedrop Cakery whose lease runs out in 2017, with a two-year right of renewal.

Council strategic planner Ross Hudson said the ideal situation would be to be in a new facility in 2018. Tourism BOP has started discussions with the port company to re-route cruise ship passengers away from the current port gates and through a new gate in the port fence to the planned new i-Site.

Mayor Stuart Crosby said sub-standard working conditions in the current i-Port were not fair on staff and the tired appearance meant cruise ship passengers were getting a poor first impression. It was critical passengers went through the new gateway visitor information centre before they entered the public realm and disappeared.

Mr Arrowsmith defended the request for the additional $150,000 of permanent funding, saying Tourism BOP was desperate for resources. "We have been doing all sorts of stuff to keep our heads above water for the last four years."

Tourism Bay of Plenty's financial woes:

* Projected visitor services costs 2015-16: $767,000

* Current shortfall: $142,000

* Solution: Additional council funding 2016-17 of $150,000

- Bay of Plenty Times

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