Today Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones visited Tauranga to announce the Provincial Growth Fund will put $980,000 towards a new visitor information centre and cruise gateway in Mount Maunganui. The money would top up the $4 million in ratepayer funds the Tauranga City Council approved mid-2017. It's good news for a project that has so far been a bit of a rollercoaster. Find out more about the council's long battle to secure the funding, what it will pay for, whether it will be enough, and what happened to an iwi offer to invest $4m in the project.
The fourth time is the charm in Tauranga City Council's two-year battle to secure central Government funding towards a $5m new visitor information centre.
Today Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced the Provincial Growth Fund would contribute $980,000 towards the project, now named Te Tomokanga (The Archway), the Tauranga Cruise Gateway and Welcome Hub.
The money will top-up the $4.026m the council earmarked in mid-2017 to build on council-owned land at 10 Salisbury Ave in Coronation Park, Mount Maunganui.
Jones said in a statement the hub would help drive a 35 per cent increase in cruise ship visits and "support the Bay of Plenty's goal of creating 4000 new jobs in tourism".
The building will include an i-Site and house 34 workers. It would replace the old visitor facility made out of two converted cargo containers.
"I think the new hub... will allow the region to present its best face to visitors," he said.
Two Government funds rejected council applications for funding for the project. The council's first application to the $3b Provincial Growth Fund was also rejected but Jones encouraged the council to try again.
The second application, submitted in February, emphasised the project's region-wide benefits.
Jones said roughly half of cruise passengers also visited Rotorua, Whakatāne and Hobbiton.
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He said the project had support from the whole Bay of Plenty including Destination Rotorua, iwi, businesses and regional tourism organisations.
In a speech Jones said there was a "sense in the Government that there was already heaps of endowment in the Tauranga area".
"But I was convinced we should step up to the plate and work collaboratively with our partners."
He later said that compared to areas in Whanganui and Northland that had been prioritised, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui were well off areas.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the announcement was "a good start for the Provincial Growth Fund in the Western Bay of Plenty."
Aside from two smaller amounts for kiwifruit industry projects, it was the first significant funding for Tauranga from the $3 billion fund.
Jones said he agreed it had taken too long but it was the nature of the bureaucratic process.
"There are other things I and the civic leaders are working on. Some will come to pass and some are still in the bottom drawer."
Mayor Greg Brownless said the council's persistence had paid off.
He said ratepayers could not be expected to bear the entire burden of the cost of the hub.
He said the next big decisions about the project, such as timing and final design, should lie with the new council after the October elections.
He did not, however, believe the budget should change, in spite of general increases in construction costs since the costs were approved in 2017.
"We should be able to get a lot for that [$5m]. None of this 'stretching budgets' all the time."
Paul Davidson, the council's general manager of corporate services, said the council intended to "provide the best centre that we can with the budget that has already been approved and secured".
Asked if the council had refreshed its cost estimates recently, Davidson said the project was at a conceptual stage and the council would have a better understanding of cost estimates as it progressed with the design.
The council had been prepared to do the build without Government funding, but the top-up was pursued to fund the "iconic" version of the design, featuring an extended roof.
In a statement, Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said the additional funding would "allow for the design of a space that facilitates pōwhiri, has a community area, and tells the region's unique cultural stories".
In a speech she said that while the funding took time and "a few grey hairs" the organisation felt the design "had integrity and was worth fighting for".
In December, Tauranga Moana iwi Ngāi Te Rangi offered to discuss investing around $4m in the project with the council.
The iwi's chief executive, Paora Stanley, said discussions stalled soon after the offer but the council got in touch last week to make another appointment.
He was happy to talk to the council but could not say whether the investment offer was still on the table.
"Things may be different now."
He congratulated the council on securing the Government funding - "good on them" - but expected the cost to build what it had planned would have gone up in the meantime.
He said Te Tomokanga was a name gifted by Ngāi Te Rangi.
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said the hub would be a "real asset to our community".
As it was a project initiated by Tauranga, his council was not contributing to the funding.
Timeline: New visitor information centre
2012 - i-Site at Mount Maunganui closes. Temporary i-Port established and tourism information centre dispensed from Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park and, later, the Mount Mainstreet office
2016 - Two design options for a new visitor information centre are priced at $4m and $5m respectively. Funding of $4m added to draft annual plan for 2017-18
2017 - Council cuts funding to $2.5m, then restores it to $4m weeks later
2018 - Three Crown funds turn down applications for $1m-1.2m additional funding but council agrees to reapply to Provincial Growth Fund after encouragement from Minister
2019 - In February the council submitted a second application to the Provincial Growth Fund. It was approved in August.
By the numbers: Cruise seasons
- 228,904 passengers
- 96,180 crew
- 115 ships
- $91m spend by passengers
- 149,715 passengers
- 65,225 crew
- 82 ships
- $65m spend by passengers
The Port of Tauranga's cruise schedule currently has 112 ship visits booked for this summer.
Source: Tourism Bay of Plenty