Hamilton Gardens entry charge looks less likely

More focus on the shop and parking charges are among the money-making ideas thrown around for Hamilton Gardens.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

More focus on the shop and parking charges are among the money-making ideas thrown around for Hamilton Gardens.

A $25 entry fee may not be the best way to make money for Hamilton Gardens, councillors say.

Charging for parking, funnelling people in through the gift shop, or donation boxes that take cards are all suggestions that have been thrown about.

The themed garden entry fee was suggested by Hamilton Mayor Andrew King, in a report to Tuesday's meeting for annual plan discussions.

He proposed the charge for non-Hamiltonians aged older than 18, starting 2018, but it's now looking less likely.

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Hamilton City Councillors asked for more information - including whether there should be a charge at all - after discussions on Tuesday.

Councillors' Facebook pages were flooded with feedback and suggestions in the lead-up to the meeting, and at least one plans to pass the comments on to council staffers.

The gardens attract more than a million people a year, King's report said, and 325,000 of them visit the themed gardens.

Funding is set aside for the next four themed gardens, but about $15m to $20m is needed for the following seven, councillors heard.

"I want to see those gardens finished," King said.

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He wants the busloads of tourists regularly taken to the gardens to contribute and said he'd set set the bar at $25 so the proposition was taken seriously.

That's about what entry to the Kew Gardens in London costs, he said - "I didn't think it was as good as our gardens".

Councillor Philip Yeung said he hoped the staff report will look into other ways of bringing in money, such as charging for  parking or an extension of the shop area.

Yeung doesn't oppose a charge but $25 was "way too much".

Councillor Siggi Henry agreed.

Councillors had tossed around the idea of donation boxes which accept cards, she said, but council would have to secure the themed gardens if it wanted to charge for entry.

And New Zealand can't milk its tourists at every corner "especially if it's to the detriment of people who live nearby".

A garden set-up that required people to enter through the shop could be a money-making option, Councillor Paula Southgate said.

"[Hamilton Gardens] is the one real aspect of our city that is a drawcard and we need to make sure that it continues to draw people to Hamilton," she said.

She would also like to see packages created around the gardens to encourage people to stay longer in Hamilton.

They might move on to Hamilton restaurants or other attractions "rather than bus through, see the gardens for a few hours then keep going", she said.

Southgate's social media post about the proposed entry fee got hundreds of comments, she said, and she suspected Councillor Angela O'Leary got even more.

Southgate plans to print hers off and pass them on to council.

Consultants Horwath HTL looked at a Hamilton Gardens entry charge in 2013, but said in a report that no extra cash would be raised in the short to medium-term.

Councillors have asked for a Hamilton Gardens update from Horwath HTL, which includes looking at a visitor charge and feedback from tourism organisations.

Council staffers will also provide a business case which covers elements such as the budget and timeframe for each garden, and funding options.

 - Stuff

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