Whanganui may host poet in bronze

16:00, Jan 30 2012

James K Baxter could soon be seen on the streets of Whanganui once more.

Plans to install a life-size bronze statue of the famed poet on Guyton St are a step closer to reality after Wanganui District Council lent its support yesterday.

The $90,000 Baxter statue is part of a $915,000 proposal from local retailers and residents to revamp a two-block portion of the inner-city street into a creative and cultural precinct to rival Wellington's Cuba Mall.

The complete plan also involves three new roundabouts, a gateway sculpture at one end, a canopy of lights above it, and a "river of poetry" etched into the pavement.

The Guyton Group believes the Baxter statue has the potential to become Whanganui's "loveable figure", similar to the Plimmer statue in Wellington.

While not born in Whanganui, Baxter became something of a local identity after moving to the isolated settlement of Jerusalem, on the Whanganui River, in 1969.

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Some of Baxter's best-known work was written there and he is buried there.

The Guyton Group went to the council yesterday seeking only an endorsement, rather than a financial commitment, so it could set about raising the funds required. But it acknowledged the council would probably be called upon to fund the installation of roundabouts.

While the council voted unanimously to support the concept and consider funding it through its 2012-22 10-year plan, some councillors flagged concerns.

Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan said the project was "more of a nice-to-have than a need-to-have", especially with the looming cost of up to $100 million to fix earthquake-risk buildings.

Deputy Mayor Rangi Wills said he could not see council committing financial support to the project within the next five years.

Councillor Rob Vinsen suggested the more affordable parts of the plan, such as the statue, should go ahead in the near future, with the $450,000 roundabouts put on the backburner.

Guyton Group member Sue Cooke said they understood the council had a lot on its plate. "We envisage this as being more of a 10-year project."

The Dominion Post