OPINION: New Brighton people have demonstrated their well-known enthusiasm for the suburb by subscribing 20,000 signatures to a petition seeking a seaside spa - signatures gathered over a mere three weeks. That is a big show of community opinion that the city council will find hard to ignore.
Proposed is a water park - warm spas, hydroslides, wavepools - to be part of New Brighton's revival plan that the council is devising. The park is seen by its main promoters, David East and Tim Sintes, as providing a focus attraction that will serve the community and attract visitors.
Mayor Bob Parker calls it a "stunning idea" and he is right. The water park would give the suburb what it has lacked since it lost its monopoly on Saturday trading - a strong reason to go there. At the moment, the pier and the beach are the main attractions, but the pier has been largely taken over by fishermen and the beach is too windswept and rugged for all people to enjoy.
A water park, if it were state of the art and included seawater pools and therapeutic bathing, would be unique to the region and draw people from afar. It would also considerably help New Brighton's rejuvenation.
So will the council's master plan, which includes a slow road down the mall, building an entertainment hub, consolidating retail space and improving the pedestrian and cyclist experience. Creating "a fun, creative and lively place" is its overall aim.
New Brighton needs revival because its present prospects are not good. Property Economics, a research company, has found that 81 per cent of retail dollars are leaving the suburb, retail employment has fallen by 23 per cent since 2000 and 21 per cent of shops in the central precinct are vacant.
Less measurable but more disheartening is the pounding the suburb received in the earthquakes. Its infrastructure was broken and many houses badly damaged, to the extent that it has taken tenacity for residents to stay on. They are still struggling to get back to normal and therefore deserve the boost that the master plan would provide.
The plan is the result of discussion with New Brighton people and businesses and it has in the main been supported. But the water park promoters say it lacks the wow factor that their project would provide. They are convincing but the water park's price is an impediment.
East and Sintes estimate it would cost $50 million. A detailed calculation would likely see that figure increase, and would come on top of the cost of the master plan's far from cheap implementation.
It would be wrong to put money into a water park while New Brighton's basic services remain substandard and people are living in difficulties. But funding the project should be looked at because potential funds are available. Most obvious is corporate funding, or a private-public partnership. The project is probably attractive enough to produce interest from the business sector.
Another funding source might be found by way of a community project, in raising at least a portion of the cost. Were the 20,000 signatories of the petition to each donate $10 a useful amount of seed capital would be created to add to the $29.5m already budgeted by the council for a recreation centre in the northeast of the city.
Daunting funding demands should not discourage New Brighton people. Their gutsy community spirit fits them for the task of building their visionary water park.
- © Fairfax NZ News