Kaikoura set for big-time progress

Omihi resident Murray Lassen is such a big fan of living in Kaikoura, he's happy to clock up big miles on the road each week driving to his project management job in Christchurch.

Just as long as he can be back on his property by Friday night at the latest, ready to enjoy a weekend of stunning sea views while working on building a garage and studio next to his house.

Though born and bred in Christchurch, Mr Lassen has had a long-time association with Kaikoura and the surrounding area. His mother's family owned properties in Goose Bay and he fondly remembers diving holidays in Kaikoura "as a young lad".

A keen hunter and fisherman, he also spent a lot of his youth spearfishing and potting for crayfish off the coast.

Five years ago he and partner Julie bought the 3465m2 Omihi property.

Since then the couple have thoroughly enjoyed re-establishing the gardens and making some good friends within the small community. So much so that the couple is about to put their Christchurch home on the market. Julie is moving to Kaikoura permanently, while Murray would dearly love to make Kaikoura a more permanent base too – for personal and professional reasons.

A senior project manager with The Building Intelligence Group, Mr Lassen has an impressive background in quantity surveying, construction and contract administration.

He has been keeping close tabs on both proposed and imminent developments in the Kaikoura area and is excited by what he sees and hears.

He believes the town is on the cusp of an extremely progressive period that could see it leap-frog Hanmer and Picton as one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the South Island.

"I feel, and many others feel, that Kaikoura is a sleeping giant," he says.

Buoyed by Kaikoura's "huge potential," Mr Lassen wants to help the town realise it. He plans to set up a satellite office in Kaikoura so he and the organisation can play a key role in shaping its future.

An independent specialist project management company established 23 years ago, the group also has offices in Wellington and Auckland. Its 34 staff have wide-ranging experience in all aspects of project management.

Mr Lassen is particularly enthusiastic about the proposed development of the South Bay Domain to accommodate an aquatic centre. Concept plans will be released in a couple of weeks. It is crucial, he says, that Kaikoura provides other options than just the sea for entertaining overseas tourists and New Zealanders on holiday.

"Kaikoura has got so much more to offer. At the moment there's the sea, but what are the alternatives? If we had an aquatic centre it would give people something else to do, something the whole family can enjoy, instead of them just packing up and leaving Kaikoura if the sea is too rough."

He uses the example of the transformation Hanmer Springs has undergone.

"If you compare Hanmer 20 years ago to what it is today, that is what Kaikoura can be - and more. If the aquatic centre is built the growth will follow, similar to that which occurred after Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa were developed. With all the other attributes Kaikoura has, if you add the aquatic centre in to the mix, it places it at the forefront of holiday destinations in the South Island."

But it's also clear Kaikoura needs enough activities to keep tourists staying in the town for more than one night, he says, rather than just using the town as a one night stop-over on their way down from or up to the Picton ferry.

"I've spoken to many local businesses and that's the feedback they give me. Kaikoura needs large infrastructure, like a major hotel and large businesses, which entice people and their families to move in to the area. That generates income for the community and a bigger rating base for the council, which then allows more facilities to be built for the community. It has a compounding effect."

Since the Canterbury earthquakes Mr Lassen has seen first-hand the importance of infrastructure and community facilities to a region's economy and social fabric. He says he thrives on "being thrown in to a tricky situation, working it out and making things happen".

Just as well, because he was certainly thrown in at the deep end after the September 2010 earthquake.

Taking a break in Omihi, he received a mayday call from a contact in Christchurch just after the September 4 earthquake struck. Westfield Mall in Riccarton was damaged and help was needed fast. Mr Lassen managed to round up a team of workers within hours and, later that day, was on-site in Christchurch.

Over the next 14 days he put in about 189 hours' work - "I was a walking zombie" - and ended up spending six weeks on the project to reopen the mall.

His contribution to the rebuild of the city has continued since joining The Building Intelligence Group last June. He was lead project manager for the relocation of 76 NZ Transport Agency staff from the CBD to the Airport Business Park, and for the relocation and fit-out of new premises for National Library staff after their building in Manchester St was demolished.

Kaikoura Star