Icon or eyesore on Cliff Road

Peter Leafe doesn’t want his neighborhood of 56 years spoiled by a museum. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

“Ridiculous projections.” Ted Petrie fires it out. He doesn’t hold back.

And he produces a well-notated Heart of the City document on the proposal for a museum on Cliff Road.

It ‘cautiously estimates’ 240,000 visitors a year by 2023 and 550,000 by 2053. Forty-five buses a day and 540 cars. That’s a lot of people and a lot of traffic encroaching on this leafy and historic inner city enclave.

“Where do they think all these people will come from?” asks Ted. “I’ll tell you from where. From the imaginations of the consultants who are paid to agree with their masters – whoever and whatever.”

Ted Lives in a gracious 104-year-old villa on Cliff Road amongst the purple-blue jacarandas – it’s a prime bit of inner-city dirt.

“The trees, the parks, and view on Cliff Road make it the place I want to live.” So when Ted learned they might plonk a museum on the cliff-top open space of Robbins Park right across the road – “Horror!”

“The museum, which will only be for tourists, is of little interest to the locals who are paying for it.” He calls a spade a spade and a clifftop museum a white elephant.

Ted Petrie might be the loudest, most acerbic opponent of a museum on Cliff Road, but his voice is just one in a neighbourhood chorus of more than 50.

“No, it’s not nimby-ism,” insists Cliff Road resident Margaret. She prefers to be known only by her Christian name. “This is about the disruption of a lifestyle. It’s about noise, 24/7 noise, it’s about loss of privacy, it’s about security, bright lights, and it’s about loss of precious greenspace.”

Margaret is one of the leading lights in the neighbourhood campaign for the museum to be built elsewhere – perhaps the CBD.

Step in to Margaret’s apartment several flights of stairs up the rather utilitarian Harbour Court building on Cliff Road and you step into one of the most breath-taking, expansive vistas of the city.

“It’s like being on holiday every day,” says Margaret. She watches the sun come up and she puts it to bed, and everything in between. Like Robbins Park about four or five storeys down.

“This is about loss of greenspace – it’s used by locals, families, visitors, tourists, exercise groups, dog owners. There’s a sense of community here, social interaction.”

She says when the jacarandas are in bloom, the tourist numbers blossom too. When the cruise liners berth, the trail leads to the rose gardens and the tropical display house.

The cliff top also provides some of the best rough sleeping in town. When The Weekend Sun wandered by mid-morning last week a group of homeless guys were soaking up the vistas, the sun, and a couple of boxes of Woodstock.

Surely the cliff top would be an ideal site for showcasing the city’s history? A nine metre high structure would impose itself on the skyline and become iconic. “You don’t go to a museum for the views,” says Margaret. “You go inside to see the exhibits.”

The Cliff Road neighbours are also anxious for what they believe to be a significant archaeological site. “Would we build over the Mission Cemetery? Just because there are no gravestones on Robbins Park, it doesn’t make the area any less sacred.”

It’s sacred for Peter Leafe. He’s another resident in Harbour Court. He was born just up the road. “When my dad was digging the garden with his rotary hoe, Māori artefacts would literally fly out the back. So the museum proposal worries me.”

Ted Petrie is a little cynical about the need for a museum. “The history of Tauranga is a massacre at the Mount, a massacre at Te Papa which is now Cliff Road – beaten and eaten – a defeat of colonial forces under General Cameron at Gate Pa, and a series of land grabs all across the Bay. Probably not a history we want to dwell on.”

And he suggests, for tourists, the real attraction for Māori culture is over the hill in Rotorua. “Powhiris, hakas, boiling mud, geysers – that’s what visitors want to see. A museum on Cliff Road? I am not sure.”

They insist it’s not a case of ‘anywhere but here’. The Cliff Road community believes a new museum complex would be better placed in the CBD. Ted says, “If they really want to bring Tauranga’s CBD to life, then the museum needs to go downtown – a facility integrated with the art gallery, Baycourt, the library and a ready catchment of people.”

One of the major concerns is the disruption to the gentile Cliff Road lifestyle. Margaret says the venue wouldn’t just be a museum but an event venue. There’s talk of 15 profit centres – food and beverage sales, retail sales, overnight learning programmes, and venue – the thought being the more successful and dynamic the facility is, the less it would cost to run.

“They are trying to put three pints into a one pint bottle,” says Ted. “The site is simply too small. And with 40 buses coming each day, locals wouldn’t get anywhere near the place. It’s parked out now.”

The residents all agree Cliff Road is seriously under-utilised. Weekdays it’s a carpark – before dawn downtown workers seeking free and cheap parking flood the place. At days end the tide goes out. There’s a gym, a petanque court, and some privileged elderly car enthusiasts enjoy the best clubrooms in town.

“When I see the trees disappearing and when I see Robbins park disappearing beneath carparks, things are very sad for Tauranga,” says Ted. “All very underwhelming really.”

The gentrified neighbourhood with it’s 119 residents has its own vision for Robbins Park – a pop up marae or wharenui, a heritage walking trail, guides telling the story, gardens, seating, historical re-enactments, active displays, school kapa haka groups, and weaving and carving displays.

“That’s what’s driving me” says Peter. “We want a slice of the tourist trade that’s headed over the Kaimai Ranges to Rotorua. Let’s make this really special, something culturally world class.”

In the meantime, there’s an opportunity to have your say. It’s a non-binding referendum on the museum proposal being held in conjunction with the council by-election.

It asks whether you support a museum in the council’s long term plan and whether you support the Cliff Road or Willow Street locations.

Residents should have received a voting pack in the post and voting is open until Tuesday, May 1 at noon. Margaret is urging people to vote.

“We’re worried the result of a low vote might be misconstrued by the decision makers as a mandate to do whatever. So have your say - especially young voters.”