Saturday’s Dominion Post headlined a proposal to build a $28 million “marine education centre” at Lyall Bay in Wellington (details here).

The facility, apparently with $5 million in private funding pledged from the likes of Trade Me founder Sam Morgan, would be built on land owned by the Wellington City Council, but operated by the Wellington Marine Conservation Trust.

The 3,800-square-meter Centre would feature its own marshland, transparent tunnels through crashing waves, booty from local shipwrecks, a blue penguin colony, etc, etc.

Around $900,000 will be spent just to develop the full concept and business plan. Against this, Napier City Council is bravely pondering the refurbishment of Marineland, in the (vain, in my opinion) hope of attracting visitors from throughout New Zealand. For $1 million of ratepayer funding, we’re promised something with a “WOW” factor.

The only “WOW” factor on the horizon is: “Wow, I can’t believe they’re throwing ratepayer money at this!” That’s the comment I would expect from Minister of Local Government Rodney “Core Services Only” Hide.

The point is that the demanding “seen it all” consumers of 2009 and beyond are not the “golly gee” consumers of 1952, which is roughly the sophistication level offered by Marineland … and Splash Planet for that matter. Hence the declining economic fortunes of both “attractions.”

Maybe the grandiose vision for the Wellington marine education centre will fail also. But it will have a lot of positive factors working for it … many more than any “junior league” version of the same thing proferred by the would-be entrepreneurs at the Napier Council.

The reality is, when it comes to marketing to consumers, which is what our local attractions must do to be financially viable, pale imitations just don’t work. Indeed, if it turns out that Wellington’s location and resources cannot sustain a marine centre, how could Napier’s possibly do so?

With their respective pots of ratepayer gold, the Napier and Hastings Councils should concentrate — if they are to invest at all — on creating multi-feature recreational facilities that first and foremost cater to their local ratepayers and their families. In Hastings, for example, it seems there’s more demand for an outstanding “destination” playground in the District (and upgrading of existing play/recreation facilities) than for more fruitless efforts to spruce up Splash Planet to attract tourists.

The Hastings Council might finally be getting that message. The Napier Council is still drinking the Kool-Aid.

Tom Belford

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