Chinese Garden comes under council scrutiny

Questions and suggestions were the order of the day for the manager of the Dunedin Chinese Garden, Margo Reid, when she appeared before city councillors yesterday to discuss the garden's financial future.

The community development committee was considering a progress report from Ms Reid on how the garden was going to deal with falling visitor numbers and greater reliance on ratepayer contributions to cover costs.

The committee met after the regular public forum, at which Dunedin Ratepayers Association president Lyndon Weggery told councillors ratepayers were disappointed with a two-page report produced by Ms Reid two years after staff were asked to investigate merging the garden with Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

The report showed little had been done in that time to address the issue of increasing amounts of ratepayer dollars needed to keep the garden going, Mr Weggery said.

"Sorry people, but ... this short report is a joke."

When the council agreed to take on the garden, the arrangement was that ratepayers would fund 60% of the operating costs and the garden would cover the rest from ticket and shop sales and room hire.

However, this year, it is expected a ratepayer contribution of 69%, or $585,000, will be required as visitor numbers to the garden continue to decrease.

In her report, Ms Reid said the staffing budget could be cut by $55,000 by working more closely with the museum, and staff were looking into commercial options.

She declined to discuss the details because people's jobs were affected and, she said, it would not be sensible to put anything forward until the museum was fully operational.

Commercial options were also yet to be canvassed, so she could not elaborate at this stage.

She said she understood it had "taken a while" to get to this stage, but the councillors' request "had not been actioned immediately" and garden staff were "catching up" on it.

Committee chairman Cr Bill Acklin said garden staff had not been doing nothing in the preceding 20 months. The garden's operating and staff costs had been cut and further potential savings had been identified.

To a question from Cr Lee Vandervis, Ms Reid said she expected visitor numbers to rise when the museum reopened, and further when the old Dunedin Prison was redeveloped and the warehouse precinct was improved.

Last year there were about 28,000 visitors, and about 40,000 visitors a year would be ideal.

But operating costs had been cut about as low as they could go, she told him.

She told Cr Andrew Noone the garden recognised the opportunity cruise passengers represented and was actively courting them by handing out pamphlets as they arrived in town.

Cr Jinty MacTavish asked if ticket sales at the museum and a physical link between the buildings were being considered, to which Ms Reid said everything was part of her review, but a lot relied on waiting until the museum was fully operational again.

Cr MacTavish said it seemed "bizarre" some council-funded facilities were free when others charged entry and asked if the public had been asked their views on the barriers to visiting the garden. Ms Reid said two surveys were under way.

Cr Richard Thomson said the garden's operational fit with the museum should have been part of the museum's redevelopment from the start, and arrangements should be expedited, rather than something staff were "waiting to do".

He was also concerned the public debate focused too much on finding cost savings, when it should focus on improving the marketing of the garden.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed and said better marketing of the city's attractions was a priority of the economic development strategy, while council chief executive Paul Orders said any increase in city marketing budgets would have to be considered as part of next year's annual plan.


The Good Earth

I guess I am aware of the Chinese contribution to NZ nationhood, having grown up on the West Coast. So, this was a Cantonese contribution, not a Mandarin one? My rather oblique point is that Cold War ideology governed our relations with Communist China for generations, basically US BS. Now, we need the Reds. To come and stay in five star hotels and trade with us. No peoples are 'ours' or 'theirs'. Not since the decline of Western imperialism.

Where does Taiwan enter into it?

I recall no mention, anywhere in this discussion of the Chinese Garden, of Taiwan, or if you prefer Taipei. When the Maoist philosophies began to take hold in the late 1940s Chiang Kai Shek departed the mainland and set up more or less a 'Chinese Government' in exile in Taiwan. But, that has nothing to do with the 'their Chinese/our Chinese' matter except that the Taiwanese Chinese never wanted a bar of Maoist theory and don't to this day; which is why China has eagerly eyed Taiwan for decades, and every now and then, makes 'sabre-rattling' noises about its invasion 'One day'.

The simple fact is that those who came to the goldfields came from the Cantonese-speaking Southwest corner of China, mostly, as it happens from one small impoverished rural area. The miners came here to better themselves, and to return one day to China, affluent and of enhanced 'face', which is a Chinese concept which applies to this day. In the event, although they worked their a***s off, few of them ever made it back to China, except as bones for burial in a few cases. Those people and their descendants were assimilated into our communities and became a respected part of our them, but Taiwan, had nothing whatever to do with it, except that it tended to be peopled by pre-Communist-era Chinese, as well.

Beijing doesn't enter into it

I'm confused by talk of ours and theirs Chinese. As I recall it, the ideology was 'our' Chinese are from Taiwan and 'their' Chinese are the Reds of the People's Republic, but the Communists are the moneybags.

Absolutely IWAS

We were led to believe, prior to the Chinese Garden fiasco, that the purpose of the Garden was to commemorate the contribution to present-day Otago of the Cantonese Miners who came here, (some from Victoria), in the 1860s.

What we eventually got was an empty gesture which in no way commemorates the Cantonese-speaking miners, (predominantly poor people from one small area in South-West China, who could never afford to return). Instead, it represents, more, the Mandarin-speaking Chinese merchant class from the more affluent East.

There is a feeling that from that time, the descendants of the Cantonese miners, who had been willing to be involved and had a concept in mind which is quite different from the present one, were sidelined and that the whole thing began to be dictated from Shanghai. That attitude insults the Chinese, which are actually a federation of many ethnicities, taken right across the country, (and especially if you include Tibet, which has been reclaimed as an ancient Chinese province), as some sort of 'Generic' people.

The Cantonese, our most visible manifestation of the contact between our country and China, likely feel that they were sidelined by these events. Moreover, I cannot see this new hotel monstrosity, if it is allowed to go ahead unchallenged, improving that situation for 'our', as opposed to 'their' Chinese. [abridged]

No Communists

Iwas. The Communist Party of China didn't exist at the time of the early Chinese settlers so there was never any connection.

Saying that, I reckon having an embedded body of a major Chinese figure on show- a la Chairman Mao- could be an interesting tourist drawcard. If Beijing or Moscow (with Comrade Lenin) can do it, so can Dunedin. Imagine the hordes of tourists filing past the said waxwork. Count me in.

Chinese Garden

As long as the Chinese Garden of Dunedin has nothing to do with the Communist Party of China every thing is hunky dory. The original Chinese settlers never did uphold CCP values nor were they connected in any way.

This Garden is here to recognise the original settlers from China that arrived on NZ shores and became part of what this nation is.

Present day China has nothing to do with these early settlers and to mix them all up under the China/Chinese label is so unfair. [abridged]




Future of the Chinese Gardens

Like many, I felt that the original Chinese gardens was better off being part of the Botanic Gardens - and considering how small an area it currently is, this should not have been a problem.  Also free access there would have better suited.

Now we are stuck with how it really is - I would suggest that it be expanded - by using the large empty forecourt area, to feature lifesize? models of the many inventions of the ancient Chinese that are the forerunners of modern civilization.  Most people do not know that China was there first, 500 or more years ahead of Europe in many diverse areas.  This will tie in more with the Early Settlers Museum - and entry should be free - and it would stand out as a positive attraction of the city.

You're onto-it

'Caz', it's an axiom, or self-evident truth, that people visit Dunedin in spite of its climate, not 'because' of it; but don't look to the City Council, (not even tongue in cheek), for a solution. The best they have proposed to ameliorate the situation, is to pretend it just doesn't happen, by seriously considering a proposal to buld a 'Yuppyville' of up-market apartments (striped awnings, sun umbrellas and all), just north of the Harbour Basin, and in area in which it was determined, just about 18 months ago, by a Registered  Engineer's analysis, had a lot in common with 'Weet-bix' as a foundations for buildings of more than a single storey. Now, that is, 'a single storey', not twenty-seven of them, on a miniscule footprint, and built over filled-in ancient swamp with only minimal consolidation. Go figure!  

Our miserable weather

Hasn't anyone considered the possibility that tourists are not flocking to our city's attractions because of the weather here?  I hope the DCC can do something about that asap (lol).

Chinese Garden Restaurant?

It could be worth incorporating a full Chinese restaurant into the Chinese Garden in order to attract more paying visitors and profitability, similar to (but better than) the Sydney Chinese Garden. Why not? 

Chinese Garden jobs

I would love to work in the Chinese Garden and get paid 60 grand or so. I am a very good gardener and also a great rock cleaner. If anyone associated with the garden is interested please don't hesitate to contact me. I am willing to work there full-time on an annual salary of about 45 grand.

BTW I am not Chinese but a jobless and desperate rate payer.

Saving money

Currently the loss is $370,000.
If you removed the reception area and just had it opened in the morning and closed at night, left it as an open area like the Botanic Gardens and got rid of all the staff, the loss would be reduced by at least $150,000 (revenue of $260,000 goes, but so does staff cost of $264,000 and operating cost of $151,000)
Shanghai would still be happy as their garden was open.


Cunning plan to save money

Stevepf points out that (1) people don't go to the Chinese Garden and (2) the "link with Shanghai is huge for the business community and tourists".
Turning the garden into a car-park would not be a good look since it would be obvious. But since it is costing money to keep it functioning, the obvious solution is to keep the exterior sparkling clean but close it with a sign on the entrance saying "Shut for maintenance, hard hat area, no entrance without permit, signed DCC and OSH". Inside it could be used for storage or simply left alone.
The few tourists who came would not know how long it had been abandoned, and of the locals (ratepayers) those who noticed would be grateful for a reduction in council money-wasting for a change.

Have you considered?

@carefreecanines have you considered the reason why they became rundown ... because people didn't go there. It's not always about what's best or locals, this link with Shanghai is huge for the business community and tourists.

Don't write it off yet!

Hmmm....I think it's worth noting that Peter Chin is not the instigator. It goes back to the late 1990s, in the days of that most dynamic of duos, Richard Walls & Murray "the Black" Douglas.  I opposed them then but I would say that I have been proven wrong. I've enjoyed my visit there and my children love it.

Do we need to make it recover costs? Absolutely - In Dunedin's state, we need to do that wherever possible. My suggestions would include:

Forecourt area - Give it a bit more character.

Lunar New Year - Use the external food court for stalls, host a more sophisticated party within that night (black tie event) as a more lucrative and sophisticated counterpoint to the Octagon events.

Use the museum connection to host occasional events such as a tea ceremony, lantern making, calligraphy sessions within the gardens.

In Brisbane, we run an amazing celebration of the Buddha's birthday every year in which a whole section of Brisbane turns Chinese and which easily rivals and sometimes dwarfs the Lunar festival celebrations over here.

In addition, targeting cruise ship visitors with pamphlets after arrival is not useful - doing deals with organisers prior to arrival for discounted rates might prove wiser.


Interesting points

Interesting points in this debate. I think the whole Chinese gardens thing is a total waste of ratepayer money. Perhaps our ex-mayor would like to put his hand in his pocket? Mind you, our current mayor isn't much better as far as being frugal with our money is concerned.
I would much rather see the thousands of dollars wasted on the gardens spent on improving the rest of the city. Parts are so run down it's off-putting for visitors.

Are councillors accountable?

Councillors who supported this and other luxury projects need to be voted out come the next election. These projects are now unreasonable burdens on ratepayers, as predicted by many. They simply will never pay.  We need people who will listen on council.
This outcome is of no surprise.  Close the garden down.

It's like watching grass grow

Until we blew it all on the 'everything-or-nothing' gamble of the stadium, this city's affairs were in a fair state of order. It could have remained that way, leaving us in a better position than most cities to ride out the current global recession.
But no, those riding hobby-horses and waving their own agendas somehow seized control of the purse-strings, and the Chinese garden is symptomatic of the rush of blood to the head which followed. Now essential services are being put on the back-burner, or being deferred indefinitely.
However, there is little doubt that woolly thinking will again come to the fore, and back on the agenda will be the weird foot and cycle-bridge across the railway yards.
|When that one gets trotted out for another airing, I will be more than ever convinced that the council has lost it's remaining 'marbles'. [Abridged]

A great asset?

Surely Tracey you jest. Just how can it be an asset when it's losing money and has to be propped up by the ratepayers? In my view, this makes it a liability. A new hotel won't make them come, just like the stadium and Chinese Garden didn't. Building this hotel to accomadate those that won't come is not smart thinking.
You are however right in saying we don't want to share it. We are here for a reason, and that's because we like it the way it is. If we wanted to live in a Queenstown, Wellington or Auckland, we would have moved there. This also explains why it hasn't changed while you were away.
Your suggestion of spending money to make money hasn't worked for the stadium or the Chinese Garden, and these forward thinking ideas now have us 50 years in debt. Surely, you must have noticed how run down things seem around the place? This is due to the council not having funds to keep up maintenance.
Just one more venture that fails and has to be propped up by the I-told-you-so's will all but push the city into liquidation.


Dunedin Chinese Garden

I read with dismay two more articles this past week end and today, seeing yet another biased report of the Dunedin Chinese Gardens. I am a regular visitor and pass holder, I take my camera most weeks and, aside from enjoying the stunning ongoing changes within it, I enjoy the banter with staff, and the positive way in which they are working to raise the Garden's profile.

What I truly cannot understand is this ongoing crusade by the ODT to constantly publish openly biased articles about the running and funding of it. The Garden is an asset to this city, not only representing its rich and diverse cultural heritage, but also the growing business links between us and our sister city Shanghai. I am always greeted with enthusiasm by the staff, and particularly enjoy the responses of tourists who are regularly willing to tell me how lucky Dunedin is tohave such a treasure.

Please ODT, start looking and recognising the positive work that is coming out of the Garden. The small team are incredibly friendly, hard working, and loyal and deserve some recognition for that..

And for anyone in Dunedin whinging about the Garden who haven't visited (recently), get off your backside and go see it - you'll be in for a wonderful surprise!


Offer a tea ceremony

I realise that a tea ceremony is often associated with Japan but I think there is a strong Chinese tradition as well.
I wonder whether taking part in a tea ceremony held within the gardens might be a paid activity that could entice people to visit. Sitting and taking tea within the gardens might be nice, and it is also something I would consider taking my kids to when they were a little older.
Of course this may already happen but I would not know - the advertising etc. around the gardens is not great.


Chinese Garden

Firstly, it's time people of Dunedin started to realise that not everything is free, it's a great asset to the town and not only to tourist but residents of Greater Dunedin.  I think what the council needs to do is start to grow Dunedin and approve the new hotel on the foreshore. That will encourage more visitors. We have great bars and restaurants plus amazing architecture, having moved back from 3 decades I appreciate it more but the attitudes haven't changed by this I mean that it's all just a little hard.

We treat Dunedin like we don't want to share it with the rest of New Zealand and the world, but we whinge when visitor numbers drop. We have to stop treating Duners like "Brigadoon" only appearing when there's a test or some festival in town. So come on council and Dunedin you have to spend money to make money and I'm over the excuse that it's the economy to blame.  Well if that's the case then I'm surprised Dunedin well come to think of it the whole of New Zealand is still open for business, because that has ALWAYS been the excuse here when fresh ideas and improvements are put forward.  

Gardens and fees

Why would charging an entry fee for the Chinese gardens bring in more money? Hardly anyone goes even when it is free, adding a charge will even chase more people away. 

What the Chinese should do is to turn it into a yum char house and open it every day for lunch. Make it authentic and make it the best. 

To charge or not

I have never set foot inside the Chinese garden and am never likely too. Even a free ticket would not entice me. This was a folly of Mr Chin. Perhaps its now time for him and his buddies to stump up the shortfall. It's also time council washed their hands of the whole project. As mentioned by someone yesterday, a council-owned car  park would be a better bet and the rocks could be used to shore up middle beach.

Well worth the visit...

The Chinese gardens are an amazing facility and well worth the visit and should be encouraged, if entry prices were more reasonable, say $5.00 for an adult and $15.00 for a family, more people (locals as well as tourists) would be inclined to go. I have been once and loved it but it's too dear to drop into on a quiet day...

More volume of customers for less would provide the same funds and create greater goodwill in the community.


Entry fee required

The Chinese Garden should have to charge for entry because that was the deal struck for taking on this project in the first place. To turn around now, and give free entry, takes away any responsibility to make ends meet. This garden was never an essential council service/facility. It was an extra venue to ostensibly attract tourists and also to be a sentimental sop to our sister city relationship with Shanghai. Also, of course, it was the 'darling' of our previous mayor who happened to be of Chinese extraction.

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