South Auckland is set to gain a rich cultural and economic boost as a northern outreach of Te Papa, the national museum.
The Government, with the blessing of Auckland Mayor Len Brown, will this afternoon announce an agreement towards developing a national centre for cultural collections and exhibitions in Hayman Park, Manukau.
That is where the Manukau Institute of Technology is also building a $94 million campus on top of the locality's railway station at the end of a new branch line, soon to be served by fast electric trains.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson is expected to outline an agreement between the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Auckland Council with the Super City's own art and heritage institutions to develop an "innovative cultural hub" at the heart of the country's most culturally diverse and fastest-growing region.
Although the initiative will be led by Te Papa, the Weekend Herald understands that the deal will also involve the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery, which can expect to contribute exhibits from their own collections to the new super-hub. That should allay any concerns about a Wellington-led cultural takeover, according to officials close to the venture, which will have a strong educational mandate to serve the needs of everyone from pre-schoolers to "life-long learners" and academic researchers.
"It's not Te Papa coming up and trying to usurp Auckland, it's Te Papa in its function as a national institution working with regional institutions to improve accessibility to our national treasures for everyone," said one.
Another said an aim in choosing South Auckland with its ethnically diverse population was to "embed a cultural facility for the 21st century in the community".
"It's very different from the Te Papa experience in Wellington, which is an iconic building on the waterfront - this is about being right in communities, getting those communities to participate. There is a challenge for Te Papa about the demographic changes taking place in New Zealand."
Local communities would be consulted over what types of exhibitions they would like to see at the new centre, the official said.
Although the site is 20km from downtown Auckland, officials hope it will become a magnet for visitors from home and abroad and point to relative ease of access from the airport along the Southwestern Motorway, as well as the development of a new rail and bus interchange next to Hayman Park. Government officials will also have been reminded by Mr Brown, a former Manukau mayor, of Auckland Council's 30-year "Southern Initiative" focused on improving accommodation and job opportunities in that part of the Super City.
Details of scale, cost and timing of the centre have yet to be worked into a business case, expected to be presented to the Cabinet before the end of this year.
But it is certain to require a substantial building, which will also provide Te Papa with much-needed storage space to spread the risk from natural disasters such as earthquakes hitting Wellington.
Where it will be
Te Papa outreach at Hayman Park
• 20 hectares
• 20km from downtown Auckland
• 1.6km from Westfield Manukau shopping mall
• Next to Manukau railway station and new Manukau Institute of Technology campus