Three years of redevelopment came to a close with three snips of the ribbon as the MTG (Museum Theatre Gallery) in Napier was officially opened to enthusiastic applause on Saturday morning.

About 500 people turned out to the opening of an artistic and cultural centre which was not only valuable to Hawke's Bay but to the entire country, Minister for Arts Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson said.

Among the special guests were six people who had flown into Napier from the Chinese city of Xuzhou barely 12 hours earlier.

They represented the Xuzhou Museum and arrived for a whistlestop visit of the MTG, which has been chosen to host a rare exhibition of the terracotta soldiers next year.

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It will be the first time the statues, about 100 of them, will have been displayed in the Southern Hemisphere and the group were here to check out the museum environment.

"They were very impressed and clearly thought this was a fitting place for their warriors and I couldn't be happier," Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said.

She said they were equally delighted to get a feel for the people of Hawke's Bay and to experience Maori culture - not to mention helping with a lolly scramble.

"They really loved that."

It was Mrs Arnott's last major function as mayor and she described it as "a privilege. So very special".

"It has been so satisfying over the past week seeing the pleasure on people's faces as all this came about - I'm delighted."

Mr Finlayson, along with all those who later toured the MTG, was equally delighted. "Congratulations Hawke's Bay you have done it. This bold plan is now a reality," he said.

The official opening got under way at 9.30am after karakias from local kaumatua Matiu Eru and Hawira Hape, and included a waiata sung by MTG staff.

But Mr Finlayson singled out Mayor Arnott for special praise.

"Her devoted advocacy for this project - her determination," he said.

"She has been a wonderful mayor for this city and this is a huge honour for me to be here today. This is a great day for Napier and Hawke's Bay."

Mrs Arnott said the building effectively completed the last piece of a high profile and Art Deco-embracing rectangle of buildings; joining the Art Deco Trust centre, the Masonic establishment and the Dome.

Mr Finlayson said the region and country's heritage and culture was so important and the museum was a "marvellous" facility in which to celebrate it.

That opinion was echoed by the estimated 4500 people who took a short tour of the MTG during the day.

"It was great. We're going to come back for a good look," said Jonny Jarvis of Napier.

"The small things - the old handwritten notes and the watch from 1916 - it really is good," his partner, Sarah, said.

"It's nice to go in and find out things about your city," Mr Jarvis added.

Both were especially taken with the earthquake display, as were Matt Persen and Terisa Clark.

"It's really good," Mr Persen said.

"The whole place is really well done."