On Tuesday 22nd March 2016 Tauranga City Council is scheduled to make a final decision on the TECT land purchase and building proposal for the Historic Village, 17th Avenue Tauranga. It’s been a “for and against” development proposal.
A smiling Lion hands me a graphically beautiful promotional page for a building project at the eastern side of the Historic Village. The proposal is for a building and a carpark. In general terms it’s to be an administration building for TECT – the community funding trust of a major local power company and a community administrative hub.
If you’re not from Tauranga you won’t know that the Historic Village is a collection of older, mostly wooden, buildings representative of Tauranga’s early European development. I understand in its earlier years it was an actual working museum – providing contemporary visitors with an insight into the life and work styles of the past. The Historic Village has had an interesting career in terms of its actual development, use and location.
Urban Tauranga is geographically an area of hills and waterway valleys. There’s a small fringe of coastal land supplemented by strips of reclamation. Some of Tauranga is particularly low-lying, none more so than the swamp at the bottom of 17th Avenue. Unlike Maori whose pa sites dot the high land and hill areas, more recent Tauranga developments can be seen floating on swamps and waterways. The Historic Village has always had an issue with water and flooding – it’s a watershed area and “old timers” have alleged that in their younger days the area was actually under water. The reality for the current Historic Village is that its open green space is unusable during winter months or periods of reasonable rainfall.
There have been ongoing “scuffles” about the funding, restoration, use, promotion and value of the Historic Village to the wider Tauranga community. The Village is “owned” by the Tauranga City Council and over the last couple of years there have been mutterings and proposals that it should be sold – it’s run down, doesn’t produce revenue, needs upgrading, is unsafe – you get the drift. During the Village’s time in the wilderness many of the buildings have become occupied by community social service groups. More recently, with the development of The Incubator (a proactive arts provider and series of artist workshops), more interesting retail and the twice monthly Sunday Bethlehem Te Puna Lions Market – the promise of the Historic Village as a local cultural, boutique retail centre and arts tourism attraction is beginning to reappear. It’s still however a somewhat tragic waste of a resource.
I love the Historic Village and I have a regular stall at the Historic Village market. I’ve supported the development of The Incubator and I believe that the Village offers Tauranga another opportunity to diversify its palette of visitor attractions. I also firmly believe that the Historic Village with its Central Avenues location is ideally located as a cultural site for the regenerating Avenues, Tauranga South, Gate Pa and Greerton areas. I’ve submitted that the Historic Village is part of a cultural and heritage trail which includes Gate Pa – Pukehinahina, Te Ranga and Greerton. I’ve suggested in summer (at least) there is one of those vividly decorated circuit buses you pay say $10. for an all day ticket and can travel to visit all these features to your heart’s content.
With graphically pretty development promotional sheet in hand I canvass everyone I can about the proposal. One of the Lions tells me the TECT development will bring more people into the Historic Village (I have one of my usual Yeah Right moments); another some weeks later doesn’t think the idea of what is essentially a two-storey commercial office building and adjacent parking is such a crash hot idea. General opinions cover the spectrum. I’m told the sale of the land will fund the renovation of the former Sugar Plum Cafe building into a restaurant and conference centre – who knows? I’m given information that I subsequently discover is either wrong or not quite correct – no the eastern area is not being developed as an amphitheatre.
Past involvement and advocacy for community groups with territorial authority, organisational and central government proposals in their “consultation phase” has unfortunately engendered in me a degree of cynicism. Early on I came to realise that many projects put out for “community consultation” and submission were in reality no more than the provision of an opportunity for the community to see for a brief period in advance, what has been discussed for years and was now in its final development stage. I looked at that TECT promotional flyer and despite my immediate reservations about the project and with no actual knowledge my “little red light went on” – this wasn’t a consultation document it was the announcement of a project. Should I make a submission – no, I’ve better things to do than shout down a bureaucratic toilet.
Some days later my opinion is reinforced when one of Tauranga’s “grande dames” of the creative community tells me the project will mean funding applications can be correctly filled out because people will have to do it on site. This will reduce the funder’s work. My red light about this project glows brighter, but not sufficiently bright for a submission to appear. Advice that the superb copper beech tree by the Enviro Hub building will be removed makes me shake my head – that’s my idea of vandalism – if it was the diseased and unsightly shelter belt behind my house I wouldn’t object, it’s not a general green tree thing.
I don’t bother going to any of the open/information days about the development run at the Historic Village. I do watch from my market stall one Sunday morning the minimal attendance at the project room opposite. I tell those who, on other days amble up to me and try to encourage me to speak out about the project, to go and mark the area out with hot pink spray paint or farm pigtail stakes and reflective tape so “people” can see the area to be sold, the trees that will be cut down and the buildings that will be removed: but I don’t do anything else. And apparently they don’t do anything like that either. I don’t agree with the suggestion put to me that the Historic Village revert to its former life as a working Museum – however worthy that idea may have been, I think the Village has moved on and has an even wider and more community useful potential life.
By Wednesday 17th March 2016 what do I know? Tauranga City Council is proposing to sell TECT a parcel of land in the Historic Village to build an office building and to do so will require that the Enviro Hub building is moved and the big copper beech brought down. I’ve seen the name Sean Belcher in local print media as a submitter opposing the project. I’ve not discussed it with him, that’s until I show up to have this laptop checked out. Sean is a talented young man. He’s interested in retro and vintage. He has stylish collectables, decorator and residential presentation ideas. He gives me an “earful” about the TECT proposal. He tells me he has established a facebook page. I tell him to occupy the land. He asks me to talk to the Council: I figure the time for speaking rights has long passed. As I drive home I remember other community issues I have been asked to be involved in. I ring Sean and tell him I’ll write an article about the proposal.
I read the promotional statement on the TECT website. It is for a purpose-built administration building and parking. The adjoining green space will be partly developed. Several statements fascinate me. The project has been developed for sometime. It will increase the effectiveness of community groups through better collaboration and best practice. It will also offer “wrap around services”.
I arrange to meet TECT on site on Friday morning. I’m wearing raincoat and gumboots to acknowledge the recent days of heavy rain. I’ve brought a list of some of the issues that have been raised to me including: who is paying for the site preparation and how will the development bring additional people/ customers/tourists to the Historic Village. While I’m waiting I talk to the Chairperson of the Tauranga Multi-Cultural Society and the owner of the company erecting the stage for Saturday’s Multi-Cultural Festival.
TECT’s Manager Wayne Werderer and colleague Paula arrive lightly clothed and shod but with a large black and white umbrella. Ironically as our conversation progresses I realise that the issues that have been raised to me are not the issues that I should be most concerned about. The required costs of the drainage work and site development that the Tauranga City Council will undertake will be included as a quantifiable item in the purchase price paid by TECT. There will be some realignment of ground levels and site redevelopment which, in my opinion, could be seen to improve both the general drainage of the Village and open and extend the remaining green space area.
My red light starts to hiss at me when the discussion turns to the potential tenants. I ask what are “wrap around services”. I ask if the building could become home to other major arts and community funding organisations – yes it could do. I don’t like that idea. I’d prefer the illusion of arm’s length and independence.
I’m also uncomfortable about the fundamental premise that community groups will benefit from proximity and shared facilities. The voice of the “grande dame” comes back to me. Administrative streamlining does not necessarily benefit the customer, the consumer, the patient, the community group. When I think about the example cited to me today of the repeated community group applications for “photocopiers” I have an almost hysterical “ah hah” moment.
ARTbop doesn’t have an office. I sit in local cafes amongst other business and professionals with laptops or smartphones cracking along. I watch business meetings of all types taking place accompanied by latte and quinoa. I interview in local cafes. ARTbop’s meetings have been held in one of the free meeting rooms provided by the award-winning Grindz Cafe. My legal practice never owned a photocopier: one offs were done on the small computer printer and documents (of which there were many) were copied and collated elsewhere. Today most of my work is done online. Created advertisements, promotional statements and ARTbop stuff is copied on a pay as I go basis at Warehouse Stationery. If the business of a community group is so extensive that it requires its own photocopier, then most probably it needs a behemoth of a photocopier. Otherwise, who needs one.
Where would I put out information about community groups in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty? On facebook. In a special section of the iSites. How would I improve communication and collaboration between the extensive and diverse community groups in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty – regular consortium meetings. Do I see a purpose-built “administration building” advancing the efficacy of the spectrum of community groups: no.
The building will isolate the old buildings of the Senior Net and a relocated Enviro Hub. If I was going to relocate the Enviro Hub it would be to a position of prominence within the Historic Village. The issues it is concerned with are the fundamental issues for the community.
I cannot support the suggestion that the Historic Village is returned to a working Museum. I’m hugely uncomfortable about the proposed TECT administration building for reasons associated with the potential use of the building. I do however owe Wayne Werderer a debt of gratitude. If he hadn’t mentioned that the front of the building will open onto a small raised area which could be used as a stage for say a jazz or kapa haka performance, it would never have occurred to me that what TECT should be contributing to the Historic Village and the wider community is a modern open performance building and realistic outdoor stage.
The Historic Village is a cultural centre. At present there is no permanent outdoor stage or significant gallery space. The gallery space within The Incubator is minute. What’s going to bring people into the Historic Village in droves? Not an administration centre. If there was a permanent performance area available and performances of music, poetry, anything you can think of you’d get people, local and tourists, coming down regularly But who cares what I think?
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.