We may learn next week the location of a proposed Tauranga museum, though cost estimates unveiled this week have eclipsed site selection. Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reporter Dawn Picken tells us about options, objections and who might foot the bill for projects pegged from nearly $45 million to more than $100 million.
The vision for a local museum hangs on large posters which lay out the business case. Descriptions and photos are tacked to black panels inside a room off Devonport Rd. This is the temporary home of a Tauranga City Council display explaining how a museum could contribute to the area's sense of history, belonging and economy; what could feature inside, plus examples from other cities. Commentors fill A4 papers and sticky notes. One reads, "I like integrated because it's a new future way of thinking for museums and libraries."
The city's transformation committee is considering several options: a standalone museum on Cliff Rd; standalone new library in Willow St; joint museum and library on Willow St or standalone museum on Willow St. They're expected to choose a site on Tuesday before sending the issue to the full council the 19th of this month.
Choosing Sites – Cliff Rd
Many people advocating for a museum have strong opinions about where it should sit: Cliff Rd or Willow St. The Cliff Rd site, according to council documents, would create a heritage precinct closely located to the Redoubt; the Elms and Mission Cemetery.
"Located in a dominant position over the water, the museum would become a destination for visitors. It would sit at the northern end of Te Papa peninsula, which an archaeologist's report describes as "a nationally significant cultural and archaeological landscape…" Ken Phillips wrote eight identified archaeological sites were located within 100 metres of the properties, and mass graves may be located there.…land affected by the proposed museum development likely contains components of the southern defended section of Otamataha Pa as well as evidence of pre-European Maori open settlement and cultivations. Phillips wrote lack of significant development on the land the past 150 years means there's a high likelihood significant archaeological features have survived.
Members of local iwi back the Cliff Rd site. Ngai Tamarawaho kaumatua Peri Kohu told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend tangata whenua had indicated support during official forums.
He was confident any remains found could be handled with rituals and care. "There's a pakeha barrier in their mind about that. I'm not sure where it comes from because pakeha have been digging themselves up for generations after generations." Kohu said the museum could help teach locals and visitors about 1000 years of history that lies in archives and continues to be uncovered.
"And Cliff Rd – that's a historical precinct. That's a plus." Other proponents of the site have touted its seaside location and views to Mauao.
Buddy Mikaere, who's a non-voting member of the transformation committee said while he appreciates cost is a factor, it's more about the appropriate site and what was trying to be achieved with the museum.
"Costs for the standalone museum aren't that much more than what you'd get with the same investment of money on the Willow St site, but asthetically and culturally, the Cliff Rd site is far and away much superior." Mikaere said he supports the idea of setting a budget and asking designers to meet it.
"I'm sure all those kinds of things are achievable. And that's the kind of approach I take. Don't tell me what the problems are. Tell me what the answers are."
An assessment report pegs the time between site decision and start of construction for the Cliff Rd location about three years.
Choosing Sites – Willow St
Wednesday morning, Judith and John Harney of the Avenues plus several other people drop into the council's hub room during the first 20 minutes it's open. Mrs Harney said she prefers the Willow St site. "It's near the Art Gallery, it keeps the centre of town vibrant. One of the arguments for having it up on Cliff Rd is the view. I don't go to a museum necessarily for the view."
Her husband, John, agreed and said the museum and library should be sited together. "If you've got people going to the library, they'll pop into the museum as well. If they're separate buildings, a lot of people won't bother looking in a museum. To display part of Tauranga's history would be great."
Council documents describe Willow St as a 2-hectare council-owned site earmarked for redevelopment.
"A museum on this site would create a cultural precinct and tie with the Central Library, Tauranga Art Gallery, Baycourt, and a potential future performance venue (councillors last month voted to put on hold plans for a $78 million new performance venue).
An assessment report pegs the time between site decision and start of construction at Willow St about two years.
Timing and costs are cited by Willow St supporters as reasons to locate the museum in the heart of the CBD. National MP Simon Bridges has advocated for years for a Tauranga museum.
He said he appreciated Cliff Rd would be a more iconic, exciting location, "…but I'm very concerned that to do it up there with consultation processes and much more cost attached to that museum, we'll be waiting until I'm in a retirement home before we get this thing."
Cost estimates presented to councillors during a workshop on Wednesday show the Cliff Rd museum would cost $52.9m to $64.4m. On a cost per square metre basis, the price of the standalone museum on Cliff Rd was nearly double the other options at $12,562 per square metre.
Jasmax architecture firm principal Neil Martin said the design was closer to national museum standard because that's what the brief called for.
The Cliff Rd design includes raised foundations holding up a glass floor to allow the public to view an archaeological site, thought to be a mass grave, buried below.
Former Tauranga city councillor Murray Guy criticised council during his bid for mayor last year, saying it needed to seek more community feedback on the proposed museum and other projects.
Council staff said they had three months of community engagement this year which showed significant support for a new museum.
Guy said short-listed options are too narrow. "If I was in a position of influence I would be stopping the process in its tracks and going out to the community from a blank sheet perspective."
Guy wants a location outside the CBD due to transportation and parking concerns. He suggested the archery park near the Waikareao estuary; land at Elizabeth and Glasgow; Smith's Farm adjacent to Route K or Gate Pa, where he said the bowls club had relinquished its lease.
"Where there are existing entities that go some way towards meeting our community's expectations we should be working with them. It's more about ego than reality."
City transformation committee chair Larry Baldock said the public over the past few months had indicated support for a museum in the CBD.
"We want to attract people to the city centre. If the museum is too far out, people will be going there as a specific journey rather than incorporate it into other things they do."
Baldock told the Bay of Plenty Times on Wednesday the architecture firm's numbers were not the final word.
He said council could also ask for a design at a certain price.
He told me earlier this week, before dollars amounts were revealed, council had already spent $463,012 on a business case for the museum (as at October 31).
"The detailed business case will support all future external fundraising requests and is therefore an extremely important piece of work…Personally, I'm looking forward to making the decision in December so we can move on to the next stage and look at actually building something."
Baldock said the council must consider costs in all it does, but as the fifth largest city in the country, and its only town of more than 50,000 without a museum, the idea is more than a "nice to have."
He said cultural amenities such as a museum would help the city's economy.
"If we said no to everything that was going to cost something, we'd have nothing. We can't have an open check book, but I believe the time is right. A lot of people have moved here the past 10 years who feel it's important to have these cultural facilities."
Tauranga Moana Museum Trust chairman Neil Te Kani said after cost estimates were revealed, the Trust believed the numbers had to come down. He worried about public reaction.
Prior to Wednesday's workshop, Mayor Greg Brownless said costs had to be reasonable, or a museum likely wouldn't proceed.
"It's an interesting situation. We've got people with high expectations who crank those expectations up and people who've got to do the paying. We've got to make sure it's affordable…it's a matter of balancing the wish list. We spend a lot on sports. Some say it's time we spent something and culture and history."
The most expensive proposal – standalone library plus standalone museum would add $128.70 to rates. That's in addition to the previously-announced rates rise of 3.9 per cent during the next financial year.
In September 2005, plans were unveiled for a museum cantilevered across the harbour for $18 million. At the time, the setting was described as a "magical place of activity" and the facility was envisioned to have an x-factor like no other.
The price tag grew over two years, and most city councillors who backed the $21 to $24 million waterfront museum in 2007 were booted from office.
Auckland-based designer Jasmax which designed Te Papa, had the contract for the waterfront project but was told to stop work.
The ratepayer-funded budget for museum salaries for 2007 was $427,000 for seven fulltime staff and one part-timer.
More than $5 million had been pledged, including $1m from the Kaumatua (elders) Forum, according to an October, 2007 story in the Bay of Plenty Times.
Council voted in 2011 to spend $100,000 securing resource consent for a $20 million museum on Cliff Rd.
It later voted to spend $800,000 per year on establishing and running an art gallery. At the time, a 100-page study said the best way to deliver a publicly-funded museum and art gallery was to build the two beside each other.
The Art Gallery survived. The museum build was postponed. Again.
Mayor Greg Brownless, who was a councillor during the 2007 and 2011 discussions, said it wasn't the idea of a museum itself that drew objections, but the waterfront location in particular that stopped it from progressing.
"Putting it over the water seemed to polarise people so it didn't happen… I think Tauranga's rapid population rise has really only happened the last 30 or 40 years and some places have had museums far longer than that. We've got a big tourist influx at the moment and if we can provide somewhere that will keep tourists here longer and give them less reason to disappear from cruise ships to other part of the country, that's gotta be good, as well."
Politics of cost
Estimates for outside funding for capital museum expenses from sources such as other government entities, grants, foundations and private donors range from around 55 per cent (council figures for a standalone museum on Cliff Rd) to as much as 80 per cent of costs (according to Kelly Barclay of the Tauranga Moana Museum Trust).
But every official we spoke to for this story pointed out capital costs were a speed bump compared to annual operating expenses.
Prior to the change in central government, National MP Simon Bridges said the government was prepared to fund at least a third of capital costs for the Tauranga museum via the regional museum's fund. "…not particularly dependant on the total amount, but I suppose If it was masses…many, many tens of millions, that would not hold true."
Bridges said he would've been keen to fund more than one-third, if possible, but other stakeholders, including the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, needed to be significant funders. "Because it's the wealthiest regional council in New Zealand given its Port shares and it has an infrastructure fund with well over $100m in it."
We asked chairman Doug Leeder how much the regional council might be willing to contribute.
He said although the council had a $200m infrastructure fund, all the monies were allocated for items such as a $15m grant (co-founded with TECT) for the university campus and $5m for the marine precinct.
"If the regional council was to make a contribution to a museum it would have to go and borrow those funds, and there's only one group of people who pay for loans and those are ratepayers…I think what we have to do is put to rest the notion the regional council is sitting on a pot of money that we don't know what to do with."
Labour list MP Jan Tinetti said she didn't yet know how much money the new government was willing to spend for a Tauranga museum, but she would work with Simon Bridges on the project.
"Ministers have been asked to look at their budgets and advocate for that funding." Tinetti said even after leading a school whose students had scarce economic resources, the museum's case was clear.
"We need to celebrate history. When I look at people living in poverty, my children in Merivale, Maori and Pacific Islanders, they need to see themselves celebrated in those histories, as well."
New Zealand First list MP Clayton Mitchell said new cost estimates for the project were surprising.
"That's always been an issue with council. No one is against the actual idea of having a museum in Tauranga. It's always who's going to pay for it and how we can afford it." He suggested the community explore private sector partnerships.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who's also Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage said in an email, "If, and when, an application was made to the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund, it would be considered at that time by the Minister."
Transformation committee chair Larry Baldock said the council has worked very hard to bring the community along for the current debate.
"There are no guarantees when you have a three-year political window. That's what derailed us last time; it became an election issue. I trust this time we're able to cement it into the ten-year plan."
The proposal include 15 "profit centres" like food and beverage sales, retail sales, overnight learning programmes and venue hire. Baldock said, "The more successful and dynamic it is, the less cost it is to run."
Palmerston North and Whakatane are cited as two examples of smaller cities with their own museums. However, many New Zealand towns have museums:
Nelson (population: 46,437) has a provincial museum showcasing the region's history. The building was opened in 2005 and cost $5m to build (according to Wikipedia).
Whitianga's (population: 4368) Mercury Bay Museum opened in 1979 and sees more than 6000 visitors each year, making it the most visited museum on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Raglan (population: 2736) and District Museum finished construction on a new building in 2011. The town's first museum opened in 1970.
Morrinsville's (population:7000) museum is a small museum specialising in the history of the Morrinsville district with displays of local artefacts and a pioneer cottage.
*for more: www.nzmuseums.co.nz
Classic Flyers Example of Commercial + Volunteer Venture
Classic Flyers Museum has operated from a purpose-built hangar near the Tauranga airport since 2005. Chief executive Andrew Gormlie said the cafe and function spaces are the engine room of the facility. He estimates 80 per cent of revenue comes from hospitality; the rest is generated through the exhibit space. "If it's just a museum purely full of old aircraft-related exhibits...usually with those things, it's difficult to make them pay their way. When we devised the idea, the opportunity to do the two things together was what we recognised the most. The ability to put a hub in where people can come and go." Gormlie said having a commercial income stream that fits well with the subject matter is vital for the museum's success.
He said Classic Flyers welcomed 70,000 visitors last year, including groups of students. The organisation has around 200 volunteers and 4000 non-volunteer members.
Other Tauranga Museums and Historic Places
Brain Watkins House: http://www.nzmuseums.co.nz/account/3002
*for more: www.nzmuseums.co.nz
5 December: 1pm start City Transformation Committee selects a preferred option for recommendation to Council
19 December: 1pm start Council decides on a preferred option for including in draft Long Term Plan 2018-2028
March/April 2018: Preferred option consulted on for Long-Term Plan
*Meetings are open to the public and take place at TCC chambers, 91 Willow Street
Willing to Pay?
Survey of 400 residents
64 per cent supported a museum
41 per cent willing to pay
69 per cent preferred integrated museum/library when shown impact on rates estimates
-Tauranga City Council survey
Heart of the City
Do minimum (reinstate current central library)
Standalone library on Willow Street
Integrated facility on Willow Street
Standalone museum on Cliff Road
Precinct option (not investigated to date)
Standalone museum on Willow Street