Len Lye Centre is the jewel in the crown of the New Zealand art and culture video

RADIO NEW ZEALAND

The Len Lye Centre in Taranaki has smashed visitor expectations in its first year with 150,000 people coming through the doors, a third more than predicted.

New Plymouth's multi-million dollar Len Lye Centre smashed expectations for visitor numbers in its first year of operations - but the option of imposing an entry fee remains on the table.

As of 6pm on Monday a total of 151,417 visitors had made their way through the doors of the internationally-acclaimed gallery -  55,000 more than predicted. 

Before the weekend visitor numbers had been sitting around 148,000, which prompted a last-ditch online push to get enough people through the gallery to crack the 150,000 milestone. 

The Len Lye Centre has had 151,417 visitors through its doors in the first year.
Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ

The Len Lye Centre has had 151,417 visitors through its doors in the first year.

Council's Recreation and Culture Manager Teresa Turner said the Len Lye Centre had quickly joined the ranks of the region's best attractions and was having an effect on New Plymouth's retail sector. 

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"And of course the building itself is so spectacular - it has clearly joined the likes of the Wind Wand and Te Rewa Rewa Bridge as one of our district icons and most photographed structures.

"The latest data is showing a significant increase in spending in the CBD. And there's no doubt the centre has played a key role in the vibrancy of the CBD's western quarter," she said. 

Now that the numbers for the first year are in, the council will again discuss the possibility of an entry fee at the gallery - a decision put on hold until at least 12 months after opening. 

Turner said a report on revenue generation at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre would go to the council in late September. 

In addition to exceptional visitor numbers, the New Plymouth District Council won a national award for Best Creative Place at the Local Government New Zealand EXCELLENCE Awards, held in Dunedin on Monday night. 

The award recognised the contribution arts and culture initiatives can make towards creating a more prosperous town, city, district or region. 

Judges for the awards were former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast, EQC chair Sir Maarten Wevers and The New Zealand Initiative's executive director, Dr Oliver Hartwich.

The judges praised the Len Lye Centre as "an internationally significant place for the city" and heaped praise on the council's execution of the plan to see it built as a benefit to the area. 

They said the centre was a wonderful partner for the Puke Ariki Museum and acknowledged the commitment from the community in raising funds for it.

"The Len Lye Centre is a jewel for New Plymouth and all of New Zealand," LGNZ president Lawrence Yule said. 

Gallery director Simon Rees said despite the ratepayer kickback during the building of the Len Lye Centre, the role it now played within the Taranaki region was undoubtedly positive. 

In the next year they were looking to cement more ties and exhibitions with artists who have strong connections with the region, Rees said. 

Additionally, they hoped the street scaping planned for Queen St out front of the Len Lye Centre would be completed next year, he said. 

The New Plymouth District Council made the decision in 2006 to build a permanent home for artist Len Lye's work, a decision which cost some councillors their seats around the table in the 2013 local body elections. 

The proposed $11.5 million build and fit-out caused unrest among New Plymouth District ratepayers, despite the centre's entire capital cost being met through external funding. 

Based on a six-day business week, the facility's budgeted operating costs for its first year was almost $3.2m, while the estimated revenue sat at close to $670,000 for that same year, and an additional $380,000 is anticipated to be funded from rates.

In January, the centre had also already surpassed first year retail income projections, with Rees estimating visitors were spending around $2 a head.

 - Stuff

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