Six years on, visitor centre back on track

By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times -

A revised $2.6 million visitor centre for Waihi has finally got the green light six years after it was originally proposed and taken back to the drawing board.

The centre was to be a $20 million project but the global financial crisis saw it scaled back.

Hauraki District Council announced it would contribute toward a scaled-down Waihi Gold Discovery Centre at a meeting this week.

The council would provide $400,000 to the capital cost of the project, with additional funding of $85,000 per annum for five years towards the operation of the i-Site expected to be located inside the centre.

With additional funding from Vision Waihi Trust, Newmont Waihi Gold and private parties, the new cost toward the revised centre was about $2.6 million.

In new plans put to council, the centre would operate from a retrofitted and leased building already housing the town's information office, across the road from Waihi's pumphouse.

Hauraki District Mayor John Tregidga said the new centre would retain the same sized space and experience but would no longer have retail and cafe areas.

In 2007, the centre was proposed as a new, purpose-built building at the foot of the pumphouse steps.

"Unfortunately one of the major parties pulled out and the financial crisis came in and it was really hard to get funding with no guarantee so it really has been on hold for this time," Mr Tregidga said.

Alitech Windows Systems' Mark Ryan, who will lease the building where the centre will be located, said the original idea had a lot of support but "things got put in the too hard basket".

"So I threw my hand in the ring to see if it would work, to say 'How about we use what we've got here and keep the cost down'. It will still be right across from the pumphouse."

Having a visitor centre so close to the Martha Mine would help cement Waihi as a destination and lift local morale, he said.

"It's certainly going to be talked about for quite a few years now. People doubted that it would happen, especially with the negative publicity we've been having over the last few years [regarding mine disputes]. But people are happier now," Mr Ryan said.

He will continue to operate his business from next door.

Waihi Community Ward chair Sel Baker said the centre had been a long time coming and people were eager for a result.

"This is a thing that everyone was looking forward to it happening, and when it didn't happen it was almost a non-event," he said.

"People would ask 'Is it going ahead?', 'Is it not going ahead?'. I'm sure they will be happy and rejoicing at last it's finally happening."

The centre is expected to take about 12 months to establish.

Council chief executive Langley Cavers said it was good to see the project finally come to fruition. "As the economic climate and recession hit, it's been necessary to look at other ways to achieve the same outcome [with less cost]."

The original $20 million plan included land purchase and building construction.

Vision Waihi Trust interim chief executive Mark Samson could not be reached for comment.

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