Horowhenua District Council is poised to take over the lease of the Levin Adventure Park to guarantee its short term future, as the prime nine-acre block is landbanked for Treaty of Waitangi settlement purposes.
The popular children's park sits on land leased from the Crown, with the current 10-year lease due to expire on February 21, 2021.
Faced with a range of options that included relocating all the park's attractions to a new site, HDC voted this week to take over the Crown lease that was currently held by Levin Adventure Park Trust (LAPT), in order to safeguard the park's immediate future.
Crown agents Colliers had offered LAPT a new three-year lease with a number of new provisions, including a six-month break clause that allowed the Crown to terminate the lease at any time, giving six months notice.
But that would require the leaseholder to remove all improvements to the site, such as buildings and playground equipment, at its own cost.
Levin Adventure Park Trust trustees voted unanimously to cede control to HDC as a result of the new lease agreement, due to the shortened length of lease and its terms.
Uncertainty over future lease agreements had already prevented LAPT from securing funding and adding further park attractions, like a Splash Pad.
HDC already maintained the park and through ratepayer funding met the cost of maintenance, insurance, rates and rent, while LAPT trustees had acted as kaitiaki, promoting and fundraising for additional development, and running the children's train.
LAPT said, in a letter to HDC, that "in light of the new conditions and shorter length of lease, the trustees do not believe that they can add any more value to the growth of the park and therefore suggest council take over the lease ..."
"The trustees believe that they have done their job, which was to enhance the park into the great town asset it is today, and have promoted the park within the community and indeed across New Zealand, which has led to it becoming such a major attraction both locally and nationally for visitors passing through," it said.
HDC parks and property manager Arthur Nelson said if the lease was allowed to roll over without action, which was one of the options available to councillors at the meeting, then it would be "open season on what might or might not happen to it".
"There are opportunities in the future for co-management once a lease has been granted. The idea is to secure a way forward for the future of the park," he said.
In supporting the lease takeover option, Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden said council recognised the importance of the park to the community.
"The adventure park is one of the most popular parks in the district for families to bring their kids and play, as well as being an ideal site for events and festivals, such as our upcoming Christmas Carnival," he said.
"It's a great recreational asset for our community. It's also a key visitor attraction for Levin, an overnight camping spot for self-contained motorhomes, and a popular place for people travelling through the district to stop, and family and friends to meet."
HDC would now seek to take over the lease - subject to Crown agency agreement - from LAPT, first established by the park's founders Hellen and Collis Blake in obtaining the original lease from the Crown in 2001.
The Oxford St site originally housed Levin Central Primary School, but became a dilapidated eyesore when the school moved location in the early 1990s.
The late Collis Blake's vision for the park was realised with the help of HDC and the community. In 2007, the Blake's publically "gifted" the park to the community and resigned at trustees.
New trustees joined LAPT and in a submission to the 2008/09 Annual Plan requested that HDC take over responsibility and all associated costs related to the maintenance of the park.
Initially LAPT was solely responsible for the operation and maintenance of the park, with HDC increasing funding towards improvements and running costs as the park grew.
Deputy mayor Jo Mason said it was important to acknowledge the efforts of LAPT trustees in turning the park into an iconic feature of Horowhenua.
There was desire among its members to continue to support the park and HDC for the main purpose of ensuring the train continues.
LAPT chairwoman Pam Good said HDC securing a new lease would be a positive way forward and LAPT trustees appreciated their ongoing support.
"The legacy of Collis and Helen Blake will continue to be enjoyed by the travelling public and locals, especially children and their families," she said.
"They did it for the children."
Levin Adventure Park has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor. It is a popular site for travellers as well as a recreational asset for the community.
It is one of only two sites in the area that allows overnight camping by fee-paying members of the NZ Motor Caravan Association (NZCMA), contributing to Levin being accredited as being "Motor Home Friendly" by the organisation.