A neglected little reserve whose history traced back to the earliest settlement of Tauranga by Maori and Europeans is about to get a long overdue upgrade.
The $600,000 transformation from a park that existed because of its former magnificent centrepiece, a huge 146-year-old aspen tree, will be completed by Christmas.
Since the death knell sounded on the stunted remains of the once mighty tree in 2011, the park has sat largely unused except as a place for downtown workers to enjoy their sandwiches on a sunny day.
But all that was about to change. A community open day in February offered the chance for public feedback on concept plans to create a setting unique to Tauranga and that recognised the site's history.
The council-commissioned concept allowed for a cafe planned as part of the neighbouring office/retail development to open out onto the reserve.
The 1000sq m site had the distinction of being one of the few green spaces left in the city centre, with the historic stone wall along its Willow St frontage to remain. Portions of the wall are more than 100 years old.
A project brief agreed by the council last year called for a design that continued to provide a passive green open space but included seating and shade and catered for small intimate events like live music and open-air theatre. The beautification will include public art.
These plans are about to be put into practice, with the main thrust of the design fundamentally unchanged by cost savings agreed by councillors this week.
A report from city centre manager James Woodward highlighted the historic importance of the reserve as an area cultivated by Maori until it came into European possession.
Various stories are attached to how the aspen came to grow there, including a soldier from the Battle of Gate Pa sticking a stake in the ground to tether his horse, and the stake took root.
The design utilised best landscape architectural practices to reinforce a sense of space for the reserve. It will be punctuated by two terraces - paved closest to Willow St and grassed through the middle of the park - leading down to a level grassed area at the bottom.
Iwi and hapu stories have been incorporated into the design, including three pou whenua to be located along the McLean St footpath, within a grove of nikau and karaka trees.
Light boxes containing historic imagery of the site and surroundings were proposed to be located at the entry points, with the existing pohutukawa at the southwestern corner to be retained. Bike parking and a drinking fountain were also planned.
Woodward said the design revealed the natural and cultural history of the site and its position on a corner connecting The Domain and The Strand waterfront.
Key themes to emerge from Aspen Reserve's community open day
- Keep it green.
- Create a relaxing environment.
- Provide a site for events.
- Provide more seating and shade.
- Integrate arts and culture into the site.