Tauranga’s historic precinct The Elms is facing a commercial future after securing the remainder of the original mission site.
The Elms Trust used a fund set aside for the development of a visitor centre to pay the deposit on the corner section in February – several months earlier than expected.
Entrance to The Elms on Mission Street.
Elms Trust chairman Jeff Major says the purchase has brought forward the necessity to consider The Elms future as a viable sustainable attraction, instead of a straight historical site.
“It is something we have ben conscious of for some while, but because of the increasing costs, because of the size of the operation, because of the purchase of the Hayward property,” says Jeff.
In addition to being New Zealand’s second oldest historic European site, The Elms has a collection of 11-12,000 catalogued historic articles, which are currently housed in a warehouse in Mount Maunganui.
“People visit these places to see what they have got, and we have got a lot in the house and other areas, but it is not changed frequently and the other items don’t come out of the boxes,” says Jeff.
“What we are planning is a theatrette where people like school groups can come and watch a DVD on the history of The Elms, visit the house or the chapel, the same with visitors.
“We would always envisage the grounds and main area be available to local people, but we are certainly looking to charge visitors more than the $5 a head like they are charging now.
“Try doing that in Waitangi and see how you get on. It’s $25 to go through Waitangi if you are a non-New Zealander. Waitangi’s huge compared with us.”
More than 80 cruise ships called at Tauranga this season, and there will be 90-100 next year.
They represent huge numbers of potential Elms visitors, but Jeff says they can’t physically fit them in the historic mission house.
“We can’t show them anything except the house, and if you have been through the house you will realise how difficult it is to get more than 10 people in any room at any one time.
“So we need are of a display where we can sell products like book on The Elms, and go into a theatre and somewhere the large number of volunteers who do an outstanding job for The Elms can be properly housed and taken care of.”
The trust was until only recently planning to place the visitor centre at the eastern end of Mission Street at numbers seven and 11.
The Elms Trust owns seven, and the Tauranga City Council owns 11, but has given The Elms Trust the rights to it, says Jeff.
Because of the more ideal site provided by the Hayward Property on the corner of Mission and Chapel Streets, the Trust is revisiting that decision.
“We now have to establish whether the plan we have for the seven 11 property will fit the footprint of the new site. Then there’s the resource consent and all the other processes that you go through – and the most important one - where is the money coming from to build it.”
Jeff says it’s the money question reshaping the way The Elms will operate with the Christchurch earthquakes considerably increasing the trust’s insurance costs and the new insurer having no fixed excess.
“It’s now a percentage of the value you place on the property, and that hurts like hell,” says Jeff. “What we have to hope is we don’t have a significant loss.”
The increased costs and the changes in operating style represent a huge job, but it’s now time the Elms Trust addressed those issues and find a suitable answer says Jeff.
“And it isn’t walking around selling sausages. The begging bowl approach of going round people asking for donations, sponsorship etcetera is not sustainable.”
The Trust believes central Government can play a greater role in turning The Elms into a historic site of value not only to Tauranga, but the country as a whole.
Jeff says the Government’s played a role in the past, and the trust will be asking it to play a greater role in future
He’s also proposing meetings with the Moana Museum people and the Museum Committee that was earlier set up to look at placing a museum on the Cliff Road site to see if there are cost savings in working together.
“At the end of the day there may be none, it may not work. But I come from a commercial background, the best thing you can do is sit down look at where it can produce benefits for all parties. At the end of the day our door is open.”