Whanganui's rich heritage holds huge value not just financially but socially and culturally too. Mike Tweeds asks just how much it's worth.
It's the 'authenticity' of Whanganui's history and heritage that makes it unique, says Lisa Reweti.
"I could go to Rotorua and watch this beautiful kapa haka and eat a hangi, but is that authentic?," Reweti asked.
Rewiti is Whanganui Regional Museum's public programmes presenter and said it was the authenticity that had brought her back to Whanganui from Wellington.
"You can look at the wonderfully carved meeting house on level four of Te Papa, but it's no longer used as a meeting house, it's a thing in the museum.
"The Putiki Church is still used for the purpose it was built for, it's still a living church."
"That's where that authenticity comes from."
According to Whanganui historian Kyle Dalton, Whanganui has one of the widest ranges of built heritage in New Zealand, and "perhaps the Southern Hemisphere", and that 2-3 per cent of all heritage buildings in the country are in Whanganui.
"We make up less than 1 per cent of the population," Dalton said.
"We have a lot of well established, old, Whanganui families whose story is told through those buildings, and they have a personal, sentimental attachment to buildings or areas within the town.
"Many of our cultural organisations operate out of heritage buildings as well, one example being the old Savage Club, which is now the (Whanganui) Musicians Club.
"Those sorts of buildings bring a certain amount of 'community-togetherness', beyond the economic value of drawing in tourists to our fair city. It also induces a sense of pride in the community as well, that we've managed to prevent them from being destroyed."
In terms of tourism, Whanganui's heritage buildings attracted "the type of people we want", Dalton said.
"Fifty per cent of New Zealander's disposable income is held by those who are 55 years of age and older.
"They are of that age where they start to appreciate the value of heritage.
"With events like Vintage Weekend, it's clear that it wouldn't be the event it is now if it was being held in an entirely modern area. Imagine something like that being held in Aotea Square in Auckland for instance, surrounded by high rises and big glass edifices."
While it might sound "a bit silly", cemeteries were also very popular at the present time, Dalton said.
"We often don't consider them to be a heritage site, but because of the Covid-ness in the world, there is an awful lot of people looking around New Zealand for their holidays.
"A significant proportion of them are now saying 'let's go and visit great grandma's grave in Whanganui' or in some other location around the country, and because the Heads Rd cemetery was founded in 1843, there's a long history in there."
Scott Flutey, Heritage Advisor at Whanganui District Council, said one of the main actions the council had done to put a financial figure on the value of heritage to the city was to commission the Wheeler report in 2004 – which was revisited and updated in 2013.
The 2013 report estimated the value of the heritage asset to the city's economy was "in the region of $40 million annually".
"That $40 million figure will only have gone up since then," Flutey said.
Flutey said the council had further recognised that value through undertaking the strengthening of Whanganui's large cultural and civic buildings like the War Memorial Hall, Alexander Heritage & Research Library Te Rerenga Mai o Te Kāuru, and the Sarjeant Gallery.
Whanganui District Councillor Hadleigh Reid has been involved in multiple heritage restoration projects in Whanganui, including the old Ridgway Chambers on the corner of Ridgway St and Drews Ave, (now Brown & Co), and the recently purchased Terrace House building at 133 Wicksteed St.
Reid said our oldest buildings were "irreplaceable".
"When I've seen buildings being built brand new, with heritage-style ideas, it never really comes out that well, whereas if you can restore an old heritage building it just looks fantastic, and it has a kind of majesty, I think," Reid said.
"You walk through other cities where a lot of buildings were done in the 70s or 80s, and they're quite unpleasant, and then you walk through Whanganui with all these 100 to 120-year-old buildings, and they always look good.
"As long as they're maintained and looked after of course."
The public hadn't appreciated Whanganui's heritage buildings in the past, Reid said, but in recent times interest in them had grown substantially.
"It amazes me how much everyone loves it now.
"The building I did on the corner of Ridgway for instance, everyone I bump into says it looks really good and that they really appreciate it.
"I never thought anyone really cared that much, because I had never seen that building used in the whole time I've been in Whanganui, which is almost 20 years."
The different kinds of heritage features in Whanganui made the city unique, Reid said.
Emma Bugden, Strategic Lead Creative Industries and Arts at Whanganui and Partners, said heritage was of great value to Whanganui, particularly in terms of adaptive reuse, "in terms of the future rather than the past".
"In 2021 the city's rich heritage is given new life by the artists who adapt and re-use our Victorian buildings as galleries and studios," Bugden said.
"The vibrant arts precinct of Drews Ave is a powerful reminder that old and new can work together to tell our unique stories.
"Our artists have been inspiring our community for 800 years, and Whanganui iwi carvers and weavers have contributed a legacy of creativity reflected through generations."