John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bold decisions needed to revive sleepy Tauranga

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Civic Heart Plan submitter Duncan Catanach wants a cultural edge for Tauranga. Photo/George Novak
Civic Heart Plan submitter Duncan Catanach wants a cultural edge for Tauranga. Photo/George Novak

Tauranga risked staying a large but sleepy town if the council failed to make bold decisions, a recent arrival from Los Angeles has warned.

Duncan Catanach, who returned to New Zealand with his family two years ago, said they chose Tauranga because it appeared to have enough city attributes while retaining the advantage of easier living and proximity to the outdoors.

He delivered a thought-provoking submission on the council's $71 million civic heart project which included spending $64 million on a council administration building.
Like other speakers during the three days of hearings, he said that Tauranga was at a critical juncture in its history.

"I sometimes think that Tauranga is resting on its laurels with its superb access to outdoors and mellow climate." However he cautioned that these characteristics were not truly distinguishing or unique to Tauranga.

The Mount Maunganui resident, whose job put him in touch with Bay exporters, likened the city to a teenager. "It has grown physically more than it has grown up emotionally...the city needs to make a choice on what it wants to be when it grows up."

Two years after arriving in Tauranga with his wife and child, Mr Catanach has given a "big tick" to the outdoors and easy living and "half a tick" to Tauranga's vibrant but still forming "business ecosystem".

His biggest disappointment was that the city lacked a cultural edge. "My wife who hails from Southland says that even Invercargill rates higher than Tauranga. The good news is that the civic heart has some of the elements to fix this."

Mr Catanach said Tauranga lacked the amenities for a city that aspired to compete on a global or even New Zealand stage. These amenities included a museum and civic and performing arts spaces.

"The city needs to make a choice whether it wants to be a leader or a follower. If the council chooses to follow the status quo, then my fear is that by default, Tauranga will remain as a large sleepy town with limited social and economic diversity."

He said the council needed to step up and be a leader, particularly given Tauranga's skewed demographic profile towards older age groups.

"In my view, amenities such as a distinctive museum and inspiring civic and performing arts spaces are symbolic table stakes for the transition from a sleepy town to vibrant and viable city."

He said they were draw cards that would keep tourists for longer and the talent forever. "These amenities will help propel Tauranga forward to become a real city with a diversified social and economic base.

Mr Catanach agreed with organisations like Priority One who argued that alternative funding models should be considered for the administrative building so that the priority for funding was on civic amenities.

While "applauding" the council for proposing the civic heart plan, he said it was time the council declared its vision for the city and be the leader it needed to be.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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