Why is ‘museum’ Tauranga’s dirty word?

An artist’s impression of the Civic Precinct refresh - ‘Te Manawataki o Te Papa – including the museum. Supplied photo.

“I have heard people since I have been here say ‘Oh don’t use that word!’ How ridiculous,” says Tauranga City Council commissioner Stephen Selwood at a Council meeting earlier this month.

What is this shocking word Stephen has been advised to never mutter since his arrival as part of the Tauranga City Council commission in February? The word, is museum.

Hardly the breathtaking utterance you might expect but in Tauranga the word museum has been a cuss word for several years – the building-which-must-not-be-named.

But no more, as the recent Civic Precinct Masterplan refresh – named Te Manawataki o Te Papa - announced by Council includes a 2400m2 museum build on the corner of Willow St and Hamilton St.

The plan is for the facility to display the city’s taonga and heritage collection which, to Stephen’s astonishment, has been stored in a warehouse since 1998.

“It should be on display so we understand our history and where we came from,” he says.

“This is a fantastic opportunity and we should grasp it with every hand that we have.”

Grasp it he must, as museum plans in Tauranga have a tendency to slip away. 

The site is proposed to be at the corner of Willow St and Hamilton St. Photo. John Borren/SunLive.

When the current heritage collection went into storage it did so in anticipation of a new museum being in place by 2002. It never happened.

In 2007, a waterfront museum plan was nixed amid political wrangling and rising costs.

In May 2018, voters rejected the idea of a museum in a referendum held in conjunction with a concurrent by-election, with 59.4 per cent of voters against the idea.

At the time, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges admitted being disappointed. Three years on, he remains “100 per cent” in support of a museum build, particularly in the heart of the city.

“I have backed a museum in our CBD for many years now and I still do,” he says. 

“The reason for this is that I have been to see the collection of historical artifacts and treasures in storage and they need a place for young and old to see them and understand our city’s story and have pride in it.”

Simon says he is sad to see museums in Napier, Nelson and New Plymouth, yet Tauranga, despite being a much larger city, is lacking.

“A city of our size needs a heart and that requires significant cultural amenities like a museum to draw people in,” says Simon.

From his own experience speaking to locals, Simon believes a majority want a museum but acknowledges pushback is possible.

So why has a museum been such a contentious idea? Simon has a simple explanation.

“One word,” he says. “Cost.”

Simon believes that the burden on the ratepayer can be softened, suggesting money from central government, BOP Regional Council and the local business community can ease the load.

“It’s actually a bit of a misunderstanding in my view,” he explains.

“We don’t need a platinum-plated job, and this is where the council has gone wrong in the past.

“I also know that many hands make light work and it shouldn’t be left up to just Tauranga City Council to foot the bill.”

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges backs a museum project. Photo. John Borren/SunLive.

Whilst the museum plans, and the overall Civic Precinct refresh, are being widely praised by the likes of Simon and those in the Tauranga business community, opposition is beginning to bubble.

“We just are not sure a museum is currently the highest priority,” says Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Ross Crowley.

“It is a very ambitious project but there are other things in Tauranga with more importance, such as sorting out the roads and transport issues.”

Ross says the TRA is unsure a plan of this significance should be made under the current governance system – with the Commission currently sitting in place of elected Councillors.

“Our position is that this group of nominated leaders, not contested and aligned to central government, should not be pushing through something like this,” he says.

“They need to take into account what people want, not what they think the people of Tauranga should want. That means they have to listen to the people, not just a small collection of those for whom this suits their agenda.”

Ross says other ideas are more suited to the productivity of the site, highlighting European squares for their entertainment, engagement and rotational systems – such as London’s Covent Garden.

“I think there are better ways to utilise the area that will encourage more repeat visitors,” says Ross.

“A museum that accurately represents a balanced view of our region’s complicated history is not that. This is more something that you would visit once in every 10 years. It is not going to bring people together or see them stay there and spend money.”

Tauranga City Council commissioner Shadrach Rolleston believes the importance of a museum cannot be understated.

“A museum is a repository where taonga from our past can be safely held for future generations to enjoy, but more importantly, it’s also a place where we can see and learn about where we’ve come from and gain important lessons to guide our future,” says Shadrach.

“Looking around Aotearoa, you would be hard-pressed to find any significant town or city that does not have a museum, so it is a marker of maturity, but also of respect for our past and for the culture of our area.”

He says the Commission received calls for a museum throughout the Long-term Plan process this year and he has seen widespread support of the idea so far.

He does however anticipate there will be parts of the community who are opposed, as they have been in the past, with concerns over cost and location expected.

“There is interest from others to partner with the Council in the delivery of the civic masterplan, however, that needs to translate into funding,” says Shadrach, on the topic of funding.

“The Commission has directed staff to investigate all funding and financing avenues to deliver the project as a single-stage phased development, including Crown, community and private investment.”

Ngāi Tamarāwaho representative Buddy Mikaere. File photo.

Ngāi Tamarāwaho hold the mana whenua for the site and hapu representative Buddy Mikaere says the idea of a museum has been around for many years.

Unfortunately, in his eyes, it has often been used as a political pawn.

“Efforts to establish a museum have been largely led by community members,” says Buddy.

“Unfortunately, in more recent times, some local politicians have seen it as a handy whipping boy for their own purposes, deliberately misrepresenting the costs to the ratepayers and using that as an election platform.

“We can see that with the politicians currently absent from the decision making seats, great community ideas like having a museum, have been able to progress.

“I applaud that very much.”

The epic tale of Tauranga’s difficult relationship with the concept of a museum appears to be entering its next, and possibly final, chapter. Buddy is hopeful the conclusion of that story sparks the beginning of sharing Tauranga’s.

“We have a great historical record here in Tauranga,” says Buddy. “Let’s tell it.”

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Posted on 21-12-2021 15:30 | By This Guy

Simon says he wants a museum here and all the people here who don’t want one will still vote for him and then moan and act shocked when the idea of a museum keeps getting pushed...

@ Kiwiderek

Posted on 19-12-2021 10:36 | By Kancho

Yes other priorities indeed. Essentials for life like water . Water restrictions pretty much permanent and everyone to save water. This has been year on year and doesn’t look like any change . We have rain but no storage of any note. We are waiting for another treatment plant but still waiting and probably will be insufficient already. Yet explosive growth in industry and housing all wanting connection to water, sewage, roads, power etc. Plans for major housing projects all needing supply but all infrastructure already under stress. Priorities .

@MurrayGuy & Kancho

Posted on 18-12-2021 13:27 | By morepork

Murray has insight, having been a Councillor, and you both make a point about the Historic Village. The "party line" is that it is "unsuitable" because of flood risk, and yet most of us love going there for things like the Jazz Festival and the artisan shops and galleries. (Are they immune to flooding?) If funding was deliberately suppressed to force the issue for a new museum, then that should be made public. The museum should be entered in the list of priorities and allowed to percolate to a point where it is affordable. There will then be no reason to object to it.


Posted on 18-12-2021 13:18 | By morepork

I found your post interesting. There is an elderly population (I’m part of it...) who are living on fixed incomes and used to managing money carefully. They can’t imagine people spending frivolously on things that are "non-essential", when there are other pressing priorities. So, it is a mind set. (Sadly, it isn’t shared by TCC and the Commission, who have no problem at all with spending other people’s money...) However, I believe you are right that a vibrant City must grow and "Man does not live by bread alone." Without the Arts, our lives would be sterile and we would be less Human, so compromise is needed. The Oldies need to bend a bit and the Administration needs to understand them better. An annual referendum to establish spending priorities is my suggestion to resolve this.


Posted on 17-12-2021 17:06 | By morepork

An excellent post that I endorse 100%. I really liked your analogy with the new car...spot on. I have suggested many times (here and in other places) that there should be a list of say, 5, pressing priorities, and the public should vote on them. It is basic Democracy. We SHOULD have a say in spending our money for our city. It could be a yearly referendum and would be binding on the Council. We could allocate available funds to the priorities, based on the percentage of votes that each one got. This would ensure that at least 5 pressing needs had SOMETHING done about each of them. Unfortunately, the current regime seems determined to dismantle what Democracy remains to us, and so it will be a traditional tribal system where the Boss calls the shots and dissenters disappear. (Or are labelled "Racist"...)

Dirty Words

Posted on 17-12-2021 10:55 | By Slim Shady

Debt, borrowing, hardship, poverty, deprivation, suffering, oppression, inflation, want, need, control. These are dirty words. Building a museum to put in some trinkets that nobody is really interested in for the sole purpose of political correctness is a DIRTY CONCEPT.


Posted on 17-12-2021 09:04 | By wobbly

And just like every project handled in any way by Tga Council , and now no different under the Mahuta puppet regime , the cost wil spiral out of control. One other small point - where are the hordes of museum visitors going to park , that project was nowhere near the CBD and when 1/2 built was condemded and sold for $1.00 , clever as eh.

WHY new 'museum' a dirty word ...

Posted on 17-12-2021 00:30 | By Murray.Guy

... simply because all processes, alleged community consultation, advocates, have applied misinformation, corrupted Council processes, squandered $millions, and ALL with a predetermined, arrogant mindsets. The community realizing that the 17th Avenue Historic Village Museum (dearly loved by many) was deliberately undermined by Council (deliberately under-funding and putting at flood risk). ’New museum’ advocates and their sycophants, incrementally high-jacked the Historic Village Museum, by various entities, groupings, most recently TECT.

Tom Ranger @By uli

Posted on 16-12-2021 15:15 | By Tom Ranger

Absolutely right uli. Precisely. Also...do projects once for a for a few years instead of 2 or 3 times and/or possibly sell the project without completion at all.... Do that for a few years (Or decades to actually gain our trust back which has been lost). Then!!!!! maybe!!!! maybe we can start talking about a museum. But put on a list of priorities for rate-payers. Museum is just not one of them. Neither is a damn Ferry. That poll is skewed as we would like to see it sure! We’d like to see flying cars as well. Doesn’t mean we should bust out the council credit card.

Always other priorities

Posted on 16-12-2021 15:13 | By KiwiDerek

As must have become obvious after so many years, for those who don’t want a museum there will always be other priorities that are more important. If it’s not roads, it’s sewage, if it’s not sewage it’s upgrades to storm drains, if it’s not storm drains... that has been the story so far. It was the same for the Art Gallery. Tauranga has a lot of older residents on fixed incomes who don’t want to pay for anything they consider "unnecessary" to them. Not unnecessary for the city, for them. And that’s their call I guess... and it’s why Tauranga is lagging so far behind similar cities in terms of such amenities.

Dirty Word?

Posted on 16-12-2021 13:02 | By uli

When I am struggling to pay a mortgage I am not going to buy a new car. Not because car is a dirty word but because I have to sort out my finances first. And whether the neighbours buy a new car is totally irrelevant in this instance. Tauranga has a history of spending money in the wrong place and just increase the rates. E.g the bridge at Turret Road needs to be a 4 land bridge. I guess between 10% and 20% of the Tauranga population drive over there and get caught in a traffic jam several times a week. This needs to be fixed. Can you guarantee that between 10% and 20% of Tauranga’s population go into a museum (and pay for the running costs)? I suggest they set up a list of priority and let people vote on it before spending any more!


Posted on 16-12-2021 12:52 | By Kancho

I think it’s strain on finances the ratepayers can see and so much that needs maintenance or attention elsewhere . If substantial funding can be sought and provided from other than the beleaguered ratepayers it would help the cause. Democracy spoke in 2018 and said no so as this project is extremely expensive another referendum should happen particularly on the museum as in spite of all the hype museums are only for a percentage of the population. I always thought the Historic Village is underutilized and could house a lot of exhibitions as it’s half way there already. There is also space for purpose built exhibition buildings and development. It certainly seems to not hav enough use as it is.


Posted on 16-12-2021 12:45 | By morepork

Not because the people of Tauranga are a bunch of uncultured philistines but because we are sick and tired of having OUR money wasted on non-essentials. There was a referendum. The answer was: "No". (That doesn’t mean "No, forever...", it just means: "put the museum into a list of priorities and let it percolate upwards as other priorities are accomplished.") The arguments in the article are good and if the cost can be spread so that it is not just the Ratepayers funding it, resistance will be lessened. The fact that other cities have a museum should not even be presented as an argument. IF we get a museum it will be because WE should have one, and the cost is acceptable. Personally, I’m neutral.

Why is a dirty word ? Cost

Posted on 16-12-2021 10:48 | By an_alias

Come on Sunlive tell us what the cost to each and every property is going to be in terms of rates ? We just went up 15% as we couldnt pay for existing costs, how do we pay for $300M-$1B ? Wheres the money come from ?


Posted on 16-12-2021 09:02 | By dumbkof2

take the museum out and save a hundred mil

Will we visit our museum?

Posted on 16-12-2021 08:48 | By Taurangagecko

In regards to the museum discussion: it would be good to know how many of the local ratepayers are visiting and paying entree fees for musea in other cities. Do you still enter when you have to pay? Is the public interested in paying extra for exhibitions and guided tours. Why does the new look Tauranga has an overgrown concrete silo feel?


Posted on 16-12-2021 08:24 | By Let's get real

When council use school visits to bolster attendance numbers, to justify keeping a ridiculous art gallery open,is it any wonder that ratepayers don’t want to fund another empty building around the city...? We have enough empty spaces funded by ratepayers and empty buses that trundle around town causing congestion. NO Museum.

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