Whanganui community leaders have welcomed a major Government funding boost as a huge kickstarter for the economy.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones visited Whanganui on Thursday to announce funding through the Provincial Growth Fund for the Sarjeant Gallery redevelopment ($12 million) and the Port of Whanganui rejuvenation projects ($26.75m).
Five port-related projects are set to receive a cash injection through the PGF.
At the port announcement, Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui Trust chairman Gerrard Albert, who is also a foundation member of port governance group Te Puhawa, said the iwi was part of the community, so any money coming into the community was "coming to the iwi as well".
"That is something we resolved a long time ago, to move forward, and to make sure the mana of the awa is still held with its people, Te Awa Tupua, but also that its mana is shared with the community," Albert said.
"The drainage functions and the moles, they must be fixed up, because they have now become part of our history."
Albert said ratepayers had paid for the river to be cleaned up for 50 years.
"The fish have come back, and the kahawai are running hard.
"Our playground was out here, our fishing spots were out here, so these amenities must continue and be looked after, and provide other opportunities that exist off our coast.
"Te Puwaha will ensure that we can expedite this process, because it's a true community model."
Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall, also a Te Puhawa member, said the funding would go towards work on Wharf 1, Wharf 2 and Wharf 3, boat launch infrastructure, dredging tools, building repairs and demolition of derelict structures.
"The infrastructure will not only support current marine services and freight services, but encourage potential tenants in similar industries as well as encouraging investment from the seafood harvesting and processing sectors," McDouall said.
"Te Puwaha as a whole will consider the health and wellbeing of the awa, while providing a place for commerce, education and recreation to come together to enhance economic vitality."
The Port Employment Precinct also received $1.5m from the Provincial Growth Fund's Te Ara Mahi allocation, McDouall said, to help connect local people with jobs created by the port redevelopment and facilitate "on the job" and classroom-based training.
"The revitalisation will create numerous jobs for local people, uphold the wellbeing of Te Awa Tupua, protect key infrastructure, and ensure a viable future for local assets."
Q-West Boat Builders received $5.5m in loan funding, and managing director Myles Fothergill said the total investment into Whanganui over the next two years would be the "biggest in our lifetime".
"It's important to note that each project's funding was also matched by each of those parties, so they're co-funded projects," Fothergill said.
"There will be an overall investment of $55m over the next two years, which is absolutely amazing news."
Fothergill said Q-West's initial focus after Thursday's announcement would be demolishing the cement silo site at 4 Todd St, and refurbishing the buildings on the corner of Todd St and Heads Rd.
"Those buildings will be used for office space and Te Aramahi training, as well as serve as the induction point for the building projects and ongoing operations of the port," Fothergill said.
"Following that we'll be constructing big buildings on the silo site, and in about 12 to 18 months' time we'll be moving Q-West operations into there, in a transitional process.
"The big thing for us will be access to deeper water and usable wharf facilities, and it will give us the ability to grow a sizeable refit business.
"Up until 15 years ago refit servicing and survey work made up about 50 per cent of our business, and at present it's about 5 per cent.
"That's because we're just so restricted with silting and depth issues and risks around hauling and launching vessels at our current location."
A significant part of his investment would be the purchase of a $2m 300-tonne vessel hoist, Fothergill said, which would give Q-West the ability to haul sizeable boats from the water and transfer them directly into their sheds.
"I've been confident for the last few years that we'll get this over the line, but it's taken a long time and there's been some frustration along the way.
"Collectively, we are all in a good position to be able to support employment in the short term, in terms of the infrastructure build, and then in the long term in terms of creating a sizeable marine precinct that will attract a lot of jobs."
Fothergill said the growth of Q-West would, in turn, result in the employment of many more staff, both on-site and off.
"The real growth will be other companies who are co-located with us at the port and in the wider Whanganui district that will also have significant opportunities moving forward.
"What we're creating here, which is very unique, is Q-West being a one-stop shop.
"We have time-proven systems, and we'll make it easy for an owner to just bring their boat to us and let us do the rest."
Sarjeant Gallery Trust chairwoman Nicola Williams said the announcement was "really wonderful news" for the gallery redevelopment project.
"I'm absolutely delighted that the construction is now fully covered, and the trust can proceed with raising an endowment fund," Williams said.
"That will facilitate the gallery director with a team to make the Sarjeant a truly outstanding, international standard gallery.
"It's not just a beautiful building on a hill, it's a place that is a world-class art offering."
Williams said it was through the donations of foundation partners that the money from the PGF became accessible.
"They need to be thanked, because they had faith in the project from day one and have provided substantial amounts of money in the past.
"The gallery is really all about people and the deliverables, and that's why we've got the money from the Provincial Growth Fund, because they want to see what the Sarjeant will bring to our community.
"In the tiny little premises down at Taupo Quay, for example, our education officer already has over 4000 school students go through, with limited resources and space.
"Once she gets back up on the hill she'll be able to do so much more."
Williams said the Sarjeant Gallery Trust had put forward three names - David Warburton, Paul Bailey and Phill Barron - to the Whanganui District Council to be part of a governance board that would "sit over" the project management group.
"They're highly skilled, and all have links with Whanganui, and they've offered their services to the people of Whanganui.
"They have the high-level scrutiny and risk management to support the project management team."
Whanganui and Partners interim chief executive Gaelle Deighton said 300-600 jobs were predicted to come out of the port redevelopment over the next decade.
"This is a significant boost in employment opportunity for Whanganui, and for the Castlecliff community in particular," Deighton said.
"This is critical infrastructure that will help transform our port into a modern freight and logistics hub and an attractive location for innovative businesses to cluster."
Deighton said the Port Employment Precinct (PEP) received $1.5m in funding from Te Ara Mahi, the PGF initiative earmarked for developing regional employment, skills and capability.
"To access these opportunities, we need to give people the opportunity to train for them.
"The philosophy behind the initiative is to match training with employer demand and thereby offer workers reliable pathways into long-term employability."