It was a day some had been waiting to arrive for 14 years and on Saturday more than 400 people gathered to enter the Tauranga Art Gallery for the first time.
An excited throng gathered in Willow St on Saturday morning for the opening of the long-awaited and much-debated gallery, with the first visitors entering shortly after midday.
The opening ceremony included guest speakers Prime Minister Helen Clark, Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby and the iconic Lynn of Tawa, aka Ginette McDonald.
Miss Clark described the opening of Tauranga Art Gallery as a ``momentous' occasion.
"It's really special because Tauranga was one of the last major cities to have an art gallery. It is necessary to attract the talents to a growing city such as Tauranga," she said.
Ten-year-old Amy Fletcher gave the gallery her stamp of approval as she admired Mark Braunias' exhibition, Visual Bank.
She gazed up at the 7.5m-high wall downstairs that the local artist recently spent two-and-a-half weeks covering with acrylic creatures.
"It's really colourful," she said, pointing out her favourite creature.
Amy's smile got even bigger when she was introduced to Helen Clark and had a photograph taken alongside her. Joanne Bailey, Amy's aunty, was impressed by the gallery, commenting it had great open spaces.
"I didn't expect to see this many people here today," she commented.
As the hundreds of visitors entered the gallery they discovered the transformation of the old BNZ building, that operated as a bank for more than 35 years, into a $7.5 million modern and spacious art gallery.
Both levels of the art gallery were humming with the first visitors and many said that despite the 300-person maximum, the gallery remained spacious and uncrowded.
Jim and Clarice Korrison agreed the gallery would be a major asset for the city.
"I love the illumination, the light coming in from the angled windows and up below the glass balcony," Mr Korrison, a resident of Tauranga for the past 12 years, said.
"It has nice natural light. I think the illumination is the masterpiece of the creation."
The couple's friend, Bill Markley _ an art gallery worker from San Francisco _ said he thought the exhibitions were striking and displayed to their best advantage in the new gallery.
"I love how the display walls are pushed back, so you really have to step in to take a look at the photos. It leaves more room for people to walk past and gets you involved with the works.
"The photos [World Press] were so intense but necessary to show, I think," Mr Markley said.
However, not everyone was quite as impressed by the six exhibitions on display.
An 86-year-old resident was resting on a downstairs bench with her friend looking at the minimalist works of Dennis O'Connor and Ralph Hotere.
"They will need to do something a bit better than this," she said, pointing at one of Ralph Hotere's works, a blue vertical rectangle inside a larger, darker rectangle.
"I like realistic scenes, not things like this."
The morning kicked off with speeches from Mayor Crosby, Miss Clark, the chairman of the Gallery Trust, Ian Cross and the gallery director, Richard Arlidge.
The Tauranga Civic Choir and Tauranga City Silver Band also performed, before the ribbon was cut by two youngsters _ 10-year-old Harry Jackson, son of the gallery's curator, and Mahalia Ngatai, 8, granddaughter of Maria Ngatai, who has been involved with the gallery project.
Mr Arlidge told the crowd the gallery was a place to inspire people, as well as question, educate and inform.
"A public gallery is a driving licence _ it's something a city gets when it grows up. Welcome Tauranga, this is your gallery."