Eyesore transformed into top Bay of Islands store

Paihia's most prominent public building has had a makeover benefiting both ratepayers and visitors.

Despite its prime waterfront position, Paihia's maritime building was under-utilised with an ambience described as that of a large public toilet.

Owner Far North Holdings (FNH), a council-owned company, had the interior opened up and refurbished and the exterior repainted.

Instead of a series of poky shops and offices it now houses counters offering Northland products ranging from hand-made chocolates to surfing lessons with a Maori focus.

A who's who of Bay of Islands business turned out for the opening last week, when new FNH chief executive Andy Nock said the intention was to create a vibrant place people wanted to be.

"It looked horrible. It was all partitioned off and no one was trading off each other. We thought, 'Let's open it up, create a department store feel and focus on Northland products.' People who come here want something you can't get anywhere else."

Mr Nock would not say how much the revamp cost, but by doing it in-house - staff at FNH-owned Ashby's Boatyard, for example, made the marine-themed seats and counters - it cost a quarter of the external quote.

It would benefit ratepayers because the building was now fully tenanted and making money for the council. FNH could have filled the building twice over, Mr Nock said.

"Make it attractive and they will come. We never had to advertise once."

Despite being at the heart of Paihia, before the revamp the building had all the ambience of a large public toilet.

The council had given huge support to make sure the building was ready in time for summer, he said.

FNH's forecast profit for 2012-13 was about $750,000 thanks to greater efficiency and new income, including from the maritime building. That would allow the company to pay the council a dividend 50 per cent higher than last year's, Mr Nock said.

Mayor Wayne Brown said successes like the maritime building revamp stemmed from a council decision that FNH had to operate like a business and pay dividends for the first time in 20 years. Next he wanted the company to look beyond Paihia and Opua to the rest of the Far North.

Also officially opened on December 5 were a refurbished Paihia i-Site and The Pier, a chic lounge bar and cafe at the end of Paihia wharf in what had been another uninspiring FNH-owned building. The business is jointly owned by four Bay of Islands residents; FNH added toilets and a deck overlooking the bay.

The maritime building's new tenants include a Kerikeri winery, a Mangawhai chocolate maker, gift shop, skydive firm, adventure booking centre and a business offering tours, surfing, sandboarding, gifts and healing, all with a Maori perspective. The building still houses a Fullers booking office and a cafe; a model of the tall ship R Tucker Thomson is on loan to complement the marine theme.

- Northern Advocate

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