The proposed $33 million Te Ara Wai land wars museum in Te Awamutu would create 20 jobs and generate $1.985 million a year, a Waipā District Council-commissioned report shows.
The News obtained the Economic impact of Te Ara Wai report through a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) request.
The report was considered in public excluded at the council’s September meeting and a media release issued soon afterwards saying detailed design work was set to begin on the museum.
The depth of detail in the September 26 media release prompted The News to request the 40-page paper presented to elected members.
The council did so, four hours after our deadline. The bundle of documents included the Te Ara Wai Strategic Project review, an update paper to the governance committee, an economic impact report and emails between Customer and Community Services group manager Sally Sheedy and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
Some details have been redacted under the Act.
It is the Infometrics report which holds the first hint of the economic benefits and an estimate of visitor numbers.
Author Rob Heyes said Te Ara Wai was expected to support an estimated 19.7 full time equivalent jobs a year and add $1.985 million a year to the district’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The 19.7 full time jobs include the 8.6 new staff expected to be employed at the museum.
The economic impact estimates are averaged across five financial years from 2026-2031 while GDP is expressed in 2022 prices to remove the effect of price inflation.
It will cost the council $2.509 million a year to run the museum with anything between 64,890 to 79,130 visitors a year.
More than half would come from Waikato, 28 per cent from the rest of New Zealand and 14 per cent from overseas.
The report’s scenarios suggest the Waikato visitors would not stay overnight because travel times allow them to visit and return home within a day.
But Infometrics had no data on how many visitors from outside Waikato currently stay in Waipā. Having that “evidence-based” estimate would increase the accuracy of its economic impact estimates, said Heyes.
The strategic project review presented in August by Sheedy to the Te Ara Wai governance committee showed what had been going on behind the scenes.
The committee largely meets in secret despite the multi-million ratepayer spend on the museum.
Sheedy told the committee her report was in public excluded to enable council to carry on negotiations and commercial activities without prejudice or disadvantage and to protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence.
“This is not outweighed by other matters which make it desirable in the public interest to hold the meeting in public,” she said.
The committee recommended to the council that it go ahead with the museum project. Phase one spend of $28.075 million would go towards 1350 sq m on Te Ara Wai, 300 sq m on a storage facility and 300 sq m on tenantable space. Exhibition costs of just over $5 million took the total cost of the project to $33.084 million.
In the media release, mayor Susan O’Regan said a “deep dive” into the project was crucial given the economic outlook, rising costs and the changed external funding environment. She acknowledged some councillors were “rightly” questioning timing and costs but said, “no-one believes the project does not have huge merit”.
Sheedy told the committee the council sent an Expression of Interest to access funds from the Regional Cultural and Heritage fund. An application would need to be submitted before June next year.
“This will require design work to be sufficiently advanced to provide full project detail and cost confidence plus a resource consent,” Sheedy said.
Waipā District Council secured $5.24 million from the government’s Better Off Fund in December last year. A part of that $1.7 million will be used to complete detailed design work and seek resource consents for the old Bunnings building in Arawata Street, home to Te Ara Wai.
Trust Waikato also confirmed a 12-month extension to its $1 million funding commitment made in 2019 but with an expectation progress would be made during that time.
Sheedy told the committee ratepayers would fund all but $9 million of the $33 million cost through the Long Term Plan. Taking out the $2.95 million already committed, that left a shortfall of $6.550 million.
Meetings had been held with Tainui throughout the strategic review and the tribe confirmed in principle its support for the project.
Sheedy said recent conversations with partners, stakeholders and potential funders had been positive. One new funder had come on board, committing $250,000.
“There is a long way to go, particularly given this project has largely been on hold for the past 30 months. There is a lot more work to do, and a lot more external funding to secure,” she said in the council’s media release.