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These are interesting times as we eagerly await the decision by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and his committee regarding the future of the Dunedin waterfront.
The regional development fund has already paid for an almost $1 million feasibility study, which highlighted extensive refurbishment was needed to our dilapidated and slowly rotting harbourside wharves to allow for the full-scale development project to go ahead.
Then, as a follow-up to our detailed business case submission by the Dunedin City Council at the end of last year, it was encouraging to read last month a representative party from the committee did a final reconnaissance of the area.
Signs are promising, and the 89% of residents who supported a waterfront development, said a poll run by the Otago Daily Times, will be hoping for a positive outcome soon.
And thank goodness for this government fund as otherwise, in due course, ratepayers would have to stump up to pay for this extensive work themselves - in the order of $50million to $100million, I believe - to prop our wharves up, on health and safety grounds alone.
It has been pleasing to note (in the ODT) that there have been plenty of other applications to the regional development fund, such as the resurrection of the Mornington tramways project, and a state-of-the-art engineering hub, also based by the waterfront, I believe - and each will add value to our city in their own ways.
The Government should be commended on its initiative to allocate money on a case-by-case basis. It will do exactly what it aimed to do: boosting the regions, assuming, of course, the money is apportioned fairly and wisely.
The most ambitious and transformative Dunedin-related project will be the development of our waterfront, of course. To this extent, and an integral part of our business proposal, Shane Jones and his committee wanted to see a strong desire and commitment to the project.
Hence, this is why the DCC voted 15-0 on our behalf, for an architectural bridge to be constructed, before and not after, the rest of the development was completed.
It sensibly had the vision, as well, to see that once the development is finished with five-star hotel, a cultural (convention) centre, a science (climate-change) innovation centre, apartments and cafes that the architectural bridge, while providing a vital connection between the waterfront and the city centre will be, at times, an extremely busy thoroughfare, and a point of interest in its own right.
A $20 million upfront contribution, in the form of a bridge from DCC ratepayers, when coupled to a reconstruction of our wharves, which will then enable private investors to develop all of those buildings listed above, at no additional expense to ratepayers, seems like a pretty good return on that initial investment.
Of course, there will be some other expenses charged to ratepayers during the ongoing development for things such as linking the cycleways together, inclusion of green spaces, shrubbery, parking, lighting, seating and stormwater flow, but this will likely be a relatively minor cost. The final product can then be something in which we can collectively feel involved, explore and be proud of.
Any future reduction in the ratepayers' costs will, of course, be appreciated. I understand the government transport agency has agreed to pay up to half of the costs of a standard bridge, estimated at $11 million, i.e. around $5.5 million. It would be great if Ngai Tahu were involved in both the final look of the bridge and the waterfront development, as a whole, to ensure the designs reference the cultural significance of the area.
This would add significantly to the attractiveness and interest in the area, while allowing us to celebrate our cultural diversity. Then, perhaps, they, too, might help subsidise our costs?
Dunedin is expected to grow at around 2000 people per annum up to and beyond 2030 and the doubling of cruise ship numbers is indicative of the growing interest in Dunedin as a tourist destination.
The waterfront development, architectural bridge and the harbourside cycleways will all provide additional attractions for our visitors to sample while spreading them out a bit more and preventing areas of congestion.
It should also provide an alternative area for residents to enjoy. It will make the city even more vibrant, especially during big events, where the waterfront development with its much needed five-star hotel will be ideally situated for easy access to and from our stadium by international rugby teams, or concert performers, for example.
Clearly, the Van Brandenburg design is not to everyone's taste - as any form of art is subjective - and some may prefer a more contemporary design than its bold design (white, incidentally, is the standard colour for any initial design/model, and will unlikely be the colour of the final product).
To this extent, I empathise with the views I have read in the ODT that would prefer that our waterfront development design had been opened up to tender at the very beginning of proceedings. Regardless, Damien van Brandenburg - and Ian Taylor - should be afforded a lot of credit for their initiative.
They kick-started the whole thing, after years of debate, frustration and stagnation; they developed a model, coupled with a slick computer-aided graphic of the waterfront development for public viewing and discussion, all free.
Their businesses are both locally owned and they are clearly passionate about their shared vision for Dunedin. Van Brandenburg Architects have also demonstrated a growing credibility within the global market, as their amazingly designed construction (as publicised in the ODT) in Shanghai bears witness to.
If Shane Jones is listening - Dunedin is ready and waiting!