Hamilton's homeless, Mayor, meet over Riff Raff

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 02/09/2013
Embassy Park
PETER DRURY/ Fairfax NZ

MOVING PLANS: Brisbane consultant David Engwicht leads the discussion to jazz up .

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Hamiltonians came together over the weekend to brainstorm plans for jazzing up Embassy Park.

About 30 people, from the homeless to mayor Julie Hardaker, rubbed shoulders at a public workshop hosted by international "place making" consultant David Engwicht on Saturday, proving that art is a great social leveller.

The process was so fruitful that award-winning Waikato architect Antanas Procuta said that it could be used to improve other public places in Hamilton.

Mr Engwicht was responsible for the transformation of Paihia's public toilets from drab dunny to a moving piece of art, and he led plans to turn Embassy Park into an inner-city tourist mecca.

"It was about getting together the streeties, the retailers, people in the community who are interested in what they can do to make the space better," said Mr Procuta.

The day started with a gathering in the council reception lounge. After a trip to Embassy Park, the group returned to work on the grand design.

"One of them is this idea where the top end of the square celebrates The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Riff Raff, and Richard O'Brien, who is the creative genius behind Riff Raff."

O'Brien has lived and worked in Hamilton.

The second idea features a river design on the pavement to bring the story of the Waikato from the river bank to the roadside, and incorporated Maori carvings throughout the park.

Discussion also centred around using the steep nature of the narrow strip to create a landscape that resembled a movie theatre, in honour of the original Embassy Theatre.

"You have these two things happening that are not incompatible at all," Mr Procuta said.

"It's really about getting tourists and more people in there and more people using that space."

The group plans to build off-site and transport their designs to the park to be assembled in March. The clock is ticking for them to secure funding and present their proposal to council, which owns the park.

"From our point of view, we probably need to get a bit of a race on because it'll probably take three months for some of those resource consent things to happen," Mr Procuta said.

"If we can enliven Embassy Square, the question then is, can we revisit places like Garden Place?"

The man behind the Riff Raff statue, Mark Servian, has taken a lead role in the development of the project and said there was a lot of work to be done before they would see anything tangible.

"It's good and bad timing," he said. "Between now and the election we need to concentrate on getting our budgets together and working out what's possible, and then we can have a substantive discussion with the new council with what has been proposed and what it is going to cost."

He said proponents of the project couldn't rely on council funding and would have to cast their nets far and wide to get the project moving.

"The nature of the project lends itself to sponsorship in some ways . . . but until we have some budget we're not in a position to ask for any money."

Ms Hardaker did not return calls from the Waikato Times on the project.

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The Riff Raff statue was erected in Hamilton in 2004 and can be viewed on a 24-hour webcam at riffraffstatue.org.

- Waikato Times

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