That’s how a Wellington Councillor described the new $17 million interactive centre at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, otherwise known as Zealandia.
Any lessons here for Napier City Council and any new eco-friendly, wildlife-centered Marineland?!
To create the facility, the Wellington Council put up an interest-free loan of $10 million, which was supplemented by a $6.5 million Government grant. Then the Council topped that off with another $740,000. Now the Council is being asked to consider up to $700,000 in extra funding. And there’s no end in sight.
Why the ongoing financial need from Council?
Because Zealandia must attract 157,000 visitors a year, in Wellington, to pay all its operating costs, plus pay off the loan and fund depreciation. Failing to achieve those numbers, and with some locals complaining it’s already too expensive to get in, the Karori Sanctuary Trust board is back at the Wellington Council’s treasury window.
As reported here by the DomPost, the unfolding debate sounds exactly like what we’ve become accustomed to in the case of certain Hawke’s Bay facilities.
One side, represented by Wellington Councillor John Morrison, says the visitor projections “were totally unrealistic” and that the centre “is a bottomless pit that we’ve been throwing money into … you cannot just keep consuming money and being totally uneconomic, which is what they are. If they want money from the council, then I think it’s gunfight at OK Corral time.”
The other side says, essentially, give it time … and more ratepayer money.
One must ask, if Wellington, with its population and tourist base, cannot support such a $17 million centre, how in the world could Napier/Hawke’s Bay expect to support a pale imitation?
Sooner or later, Napier City Council will need to table a plan for the Marineland site. And maybe that plan will have some eco-wildlife-education component in it.
But no one should commit to that path with unrealistic financial assumptions. If Napier Councillors ultimately decide some significant public good is accomplished by building and operating a facility that will require public subsidy in perpetuity, then they must have the courage to present realistic capital costs, visitor and revenue projections, and ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
And of course the same logic should apply to any other proposed public facility our Councils become infatuated with … such as a regional aquatics centre.
This is not to say Hawke’s Bay doesn’t require and deserve high quality public amenities. Only that ratepayers must be able to make an accurately-informed decision about spending priorities, understand clearly to what extent any facility is for ‘us’ (locals) versus ‘them’ (visitors), and — in the case of catering to the latter — not be swept away by fantasy scenarios that envision all of New Zealand and Australasia beating a path to the door of ho-hum attractions.