OPINION: Given the context, it is perhaps significant when Southland Museum and Art Gallery trust board chairman Darren Ludlow says he is confident that plans for the long-confounded redevelopment project will be finalised and displayed to the public next year.
When museum folk say something will be "displayed" they often mean that it will be under glass or behind a velvet rope while the public is invited to admire it from a safe distance - but not to touch it and certainly not to meddle with it.
Not exactly consultation, then.
This redevelopment has long been a misty ma nana project. It stood vivid in the public mind only briefly when it was announced, as a $24.6 million project back in late 2007.
That was too ambitious and the timing hardly propitious. The hard word came from the powers that be - the council itself, community funders, and arguably the public (there was hardly a storm of controversy over it) - that it needed to be simplified.
It turned out that there was nothing simple about the simplification process.
Certainly the implications of the need to rebuild Stadium Southland, sucking so much of the money available for grand public projects, haven't helped the ambitions of the museum's supporters.
The toughening of building regulations following the Christchurch earthquake also present labyrinthine complications for developers of what is still, essentially, a 1940s building.
So there are reasons why the revised redevelopment project hasn't continued apace. But even acknowledging that, the impression scarcely forms that this has been a project purposefully pursued. Things seem, at best, to have muddled along.
An earthquake seismic report is being completed - so that's been a long-time coming given that, and, as museum manager Paul Horner says, the outcome will potentially decide the direction the redevelopment goes in.
There will be those who will begrudge museum spending regardless of how well-balanced any new proposal might be. And some will be gung-ho for anything. The great majority, however, will lie between those extremes. They will reserve judgment on the basis of what's put in front of them.
A redevelopment is necessary. Also of necessity, it won't be achieved any time soon.
But real progress towards that end is important. It's one thing for this project to have been plugging away unspectacularly, but there has been scant indication of conspicuous traction.
It's no secret now that Cr Lloyd Esler, whose association with the museum is longstanding and informed by experience, is keen to take more of a leading role in the project and he seems to have the support of Mayor Tim Shadbolt.
The extent to which this would represent a substantial change in direction or thinking is unclear and should be clarified before any decision is made.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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