A multimillion-dollar international arts centre featuring the work of world-renowned artist and designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser is to be established in Whangarei's Town Basin.
It will be the only Hundertwasser gallery outside Vienna's Kunsthauswien, where the Hundertwasser Foundation exhibits the late Austrian-born artist's work.
Hundertwasser developed strong links to Northland, buying a property near Kawakawa and transforming the town's public toilets into a world-famous artwork before he died in February 2000.
The proposed $9.5 million Hundertwasser gallery in a vacant, Whangarei District Council-owned building has been announced by Mayor Stan Semenoff following the return from negotiations in Vienna last week of Whangarei Deputy Mayor Kahu Sutherland and council chief executive Mark Simpson.
Mr Sutherland and Mr Simpson say they have the full support of the Hundertwasser Foundation for the Whangarei gallery proposal.
The building to be used, formerly occupied by the Northland Regional Council, is expected to house many examples of Hundertwasser's work including his own models of his buildings, stamps, flags and various styles of his art and architecture.
Mr Semenoff said the centre would bring to reality plans the artist sketched for the Town Basin building in 1993, some years before the district council bought it from the regional council for $2.2 million in 2004.
In a letter of support to the Whangarei council, the Hundertwasser Foundation chairman in Vienna, Joram Harel, said the Town Basin centre would add pride and contribute to the cultural heritage and the wellbeing of New Zealanders and would attract tourists from around the world.
Mr Semenoff said the gallery could draw tens of thousands of visitors and make a major contribution to the district's economy.
It was great news for local tourism and would be the catalyst for regenerating Whangarei.
"The concept for development of Whangarei calls for an iconic museum for the waterfront. This is it," the mayor said.
Mr Simpson expects the centre to cost about $9.5 million but believes ratepayers will not be called on to help pay.
Funding will be sought from the Government, community trusts and the Lottery Grants Board.
He estimates the project will take about 18 months to complete.
The foundation is keen for all aspects of Hundertwasser's art to be displayed.
It also wants tours to be run from the Town Basin gallery to Hundertwasser's property near Kawakawa, Kaurinui.
The property is still owned by the Vienna-based foundation, as is all work the artist did in the last 30 years of his life. He did not sell it but passed it to the foundation.
Mr Sutherland said the gallery would enshrine the close links Hundertwasser forged with Northland and especially with Maori.
Examples of his work in buildings in Vienna feature koru, tiki and waka.
His connection with Northland goes back to the 1970s when, while visiting New Zealand, he fell in love with the country.
He lived for much of the time on a rural property he bought on the Waikare Inlet, east of Kawakawa, before turning Kawakawa's public toilets into a world-famous tourist attraction and work of art.
He offered the Kawakawa Community Board a design solution in 1998 as the board sought to upgrade the town's 40-year-old public toilets in the main street.
Hundertwasser became personally involved in supervising construction of the toilets, which feature multi-coloured ceramic and mosaic tiles, bottle glass windows, gold balls, cobblestone floors, copper handwork, individual sculptures and a grass roof.
All sections of the local community also volunteered their services.
Hundertwasser died in February, 2000, aged 72, during a trip back to Europe.
His Kawakawa toilets building is the only Hundertwasser structure in the Southern Hemisphere and the last major project the artist undertook.