Marine sector embarks on new voyage

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Industry sources are optimistic about the potential of the Marine Precinct on the Sulphur Point waterfront to rejuvenate Tauranga’s marine services sector, despite the new hub’s sometimes troubled gestation over many years.

The first stage of the precinct, which opened in August, is being supported by six well-known marine services companies, which have taken stakes in land based around a high-spec 6300 square metre post-tensioned hardstand controlled by the Tauranga City Council (TCC).

The hardstand, which took out the record for the largest outdoor concrete pour ever attempted in the Bay of Plenty, is engineered to support loads of 500 tonnes, just under the fully-laden weight of an Airbus A380.

We’ve always believed in the need for this facility. – Don Mattson, Hutcheson Boatbuilders

Both the hardstand and the precinct’s key selling point – an Italian-built 350 tonne vessel hoist – will be operated by a council-owned company, Vessel Works. Wardale Ltd, controlled by consultant Phil Wardale who has project managed the precinct’s development over the past three years, has been awarded a three-year contract to manage and operate Vessel Works.

Don Mattson of Hutcheson Boatbuilders, a stakeholder in the new precinct, has been a key driver over many years for a new lift-out hub for the city.

“We’ve always believed in the need for this facility,” he said.

“Our dreams were for something a bit smaller than this, but we can see the value of having the bigger machine. We now have the confidence that as an industry we can service bigger boats, both commercial and private. We can also attract vessels from out of town and overseas.”

The current precinct has been in the making since 2014, when the then TCC acknowledged – belatedly – the need to replace key facilities, including the former local slip, which the local marine industry lost when the Tauranga Harbour Bridge was expanded.

There has been pressure for many years from companies on short-term leases in Sulphur Point, and proposals for a marine hub. Eventually, the TCC decided to develop the area itself, and retain control of the hardstand operations.

Jaine Lovell-Gadd.
Photo/Tauranga City Council.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council is the funding partner for the project, contributing $5 million from the Regional Council’s $42.5 million Regional Infrastructure Fund. A major part of the TCC’s $6.4 million contribution is being offset by the sale of properties on and near the site.

The first phase was initially slated for completion by the beginning of the year, but there have been delays – partly caused by weather, and partly by changes in specifications as the project evolved, according to sources close to the project. (see page 7 for more details)

Construction began in October 2016, and stage one of the project is now close to completion and already operating, with further stages dependent on additional commitment and demand from industry.

The thing that has really resonated with me is that industry itself has wanted to buy the land – they aren’t tenants, they are part of this development.”
– Jaine Lovell-Gadd

As well as Hutcheson Boatbuilders, the other inaugural stakeholders include Pachoud Yachts, Pacific 7, RMD Marine, SMF Engineering and Super Yacht Coatings. Matamata Motor Trimmers and Western Work Boats have also taken up lease arrangements. (see page 6 for further details)

The precinct will be a draw card for boat owners both within New Zealand and from offshore. The new facility is expected to attract interest from the global super yacht sector, and will also benefit from increased vessel maintenance needs during the America’s Cup defence, said Peter Busfield, executive director of the NZ Marine Industries Association (NZMIA). (see page 5 for details).

TCC Mayor Greg Brownless told guests at the opening that Tauranga was lucky to have a dynamic and innovative marine industry that delivered high-quality services in the area and nationally.

“The future growth and prosperity of our city depends on attracting and retaining skilled, knowledgeable people and helping them develop productive, high-value businesses.”

The sheer capacity of having the biggest vessel hoist in NZ is expected to give the precinct a competitive edge when it comes to servicing large commercial and recreational boats. Vessel Works has access to deep water berthage and a refit wharf suitable for large boats, a sophisticated waste and wash water processing and recycling system, and barge loading ramps and facilities for unloading catch and loading ice, which are used by local fishing companies.

The TCC has also allocated $600,000 towards further repair and upgrade works on Bridge Wharf to increase access to deep water berthage for local fishing and other vessels. The council will also be looking to invest in additional temporary berthage along Dive Crescent, subject to a business case supporting the investment, said Brownless.

Dave Pachoud, managing director of Pachoud Yachts, said it was really important for the company to have direct access to the water and the travel lift in place.

“This will bring us a lot of work. It has already, just with the current project we have secured on the basis that the lift was coming and we would be able to launch the vessel. It’s really been a good thing.”

Roger Rawlinson, managing director of fishing company RMD Marine, said that being able to develop complementary marine businesses in the area was fantastic for everyone at the precinct.

“We all have a stake now to make the area work for industry. We consider the precinct to be crucial to a better future for everyone in industry. RMD Marine could have relocated our business, but because of Vessel Works, business and services are now available here.

“Our boats were too big to go on the old slipway, but the new travel lift is an amazing piece of engineering and having the ability to lift heavier boats, in a place where several boats can be worked on, will put Tauranga on the map as the place to go. It makes sense to retain marine industry skills locally and attract more people to our region to work on their vessels. We could end up leading this industry.”

Super Yacht Coatings co-owners Regan Woodward and Mark Hanna are originally from the Bay and are relocating their main operational base from Auckland to a new purpose-built facility at the precinct.

“We think it’s a really good move,” said Woodward, noting that the company would be working on a 44 metre sloop in November. While he declined to go into details on anticipated volumes for reasons of commercial confidentiality, Woodward said SYC was aiming to double its turnover.

“We’re very positive and think there’s a lot of potential. If the hardstand is run right and the pricing is correct, and it sounds like it is, there’s no stopping it, especially in the current climate.”

Pacific 7 owner Sean Kelly said that having SYC in the precinct was a key factor because they would have a facility that the hoist could drive large vessels into.

“It’s really expensive to wrap yachts,” he said. “You want to put them in the shed and reduce the environmental risks.”

Kelly, a long-time Sulphur Point marine business operator, said he knew of at least four super yachts planning to come to Tauranga over the next few months, which would have a lot of maintenance work done.

BOP Regional Council’s John Cronin, NZMIA’s Peter Busfield, TCC Mayor Greg Brownless and Hutcheson’s Don Mattson at the precinct’s official opening. Photo/Tauranga City Council.

Jaine Lovell-Gadd, the TCC general manager responsible for the project, said that for her the key element was keeping the marine industry in Tauranga.

“We have a city surrounded by deep water,” she said.

“I think the precinct’s purpose is about keeping keep the marine industry in the city and the flow-on effects of that, in the form of employment and economic value.

“The thing that has really resonated with me is that industry itself has wanted to buy the land – they aren’t tenants, they are part of this development. The industry was serious about wanting the precinct with the travel lift that goes with it. They helped shape the vision and were serious about it, and were prepared to put money in. I think that showed the commitment from everybody. You draw on all the skill sets from all around.”

Jim McManaway, owner of SMF Engineering, who has been acting chair of the Tauranga Marine Industry Association, said he believed the precinct would in time rejuvenate an industry that Tauranga was not only renowned for, but had essentially been founded upon.

“It is not just complementary to what remains of our local industry, but goes some way toward restoring skills and infrastructure that have been systematically left to deteriorate and /or been removed, particularly over the last two decades,” he said.

“The economic flow-on effect of the precinct is obvious, and there are few other regions that have the ability to tick as many boxes under potential for marine services as Tauranga.”

McManaway said credit was due to the many people who had been pushing for a marine hub over the decades.

“Things could have been done differently, but we now have a world-class facility. What we need to do is turn that into a world class operation, and then we can build on that with confidence. We need to make sure we draw on the vast experience in marine services of all the stakeholders in the precinct.”

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