Events and Venues: Bay Venues – A sense of place

Chad Hooker - Chief Executive, Bay Venues

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

When you talk about Tauranga with friends, family and colleagues who live elsewhere, what do you say?

No doubt our golden sand beaches get a mention. Mauao, too. The harbour. The climate. The lifestyle.

Maybe you have also started talking about the growing tech scene here, or the big industry players providing good career opportunities. There’s the kiwifruit sector. The Port.

All of these things, together, paint an appealing picture that continues to attract thousands more people to Tauranga each year. The population has boomed, and then some.

Artist impression of the potential future Trustpower Baypark. Supplied by Boffa Miskell & Visitor Solutions.

I’m new myself, having come over the Kaimais from Hamilton last year, and I very quickly realised when I arrived that there is something else special about Tauranga that you only discover when you stay a while.

There is a certain energy here that you only get in places where people are genuinely happy to be present. Tauranga is a city where people not only want to work and reside, but live.

You notice it most in the spaces and places that our communities congregate. At the beach, for example, or a local market on a Saturday. I have seen it up close at the 24 venues we run across the city.

Working alongside Tauranga City Council, we have a series of big projects coming up that will transform and, in some cases, completely rebuild some of our ageing community facilities.

This energy, I believe, is a sense of place – a relationship and connection that people have to their surroundings, to their home suburb or city, that goes beyond the practical. You don’t find it everywhere, but you do find it in Tauranga.

Take, for example, 90-year-old Iris who has been swimming at the same community pool in Greerton for more than 50 years, since it first opened in 1971, and how she continues to swim there three mornings a week. Just look at the way she is greeted by the young squad swimmers and lifeguards when she arrives.

And then there are people like James Patea. He and many of his Baypark colleagues knock off work and immediately jump on court to referee basketball, or play social netball – all in their own time, for their own leisure.

When I came on board as the new chief executive of Bay Venues, I was determined that we would protect – and enhance – that sense of place.

Each one of our venues has its own special character that people connect with. We want to celebrate that character and allow it to thrive.

Bay Venues launched a new strategy and set of values earlier this year to help do that, with community the main focus and a new vision to be The Best Venues for the Bay. We want to host as many events and activities as possible and create exceptional experiences that will help connect people to their local communities.

We also want to look after and improve all 24 of our facilities, as kaitiaki of the whole network.

The population of Tauranga has grown rapidly in the past decade and in that time no new aquatic centres, indoor sports facilities, or community centres have been built. The demand has grown exponentially, but the space available has not.

We are now entering an exciting catch-up phase where we are firmly focused on the future and what this city will need going forward.

Working alongside Tauranga City Council, we have a series of big projects coming up that will transform and, in some cases, completely rebuild some of our ageing community facilities.

That includes our community halls and centres spread right across the city, from Pāpāmoa in the east, to Tauriko in the south, across to Bethlehem and everywhere in between.

There is also the council’s active reserve masterplans project involving Trustpower Baypark, which could see the Te Maunga site become a community sports and recreation hub for Tauranga, hosting everything from athletics and gymnastics to court sports and beach sports.

The vision is for a multi-use sporting precinct, a place where both residents and visitors can play and compete at all levels, and the preliminary plans include a new athletics facility, outdoor courts, a new gymnastics facility, sand courts, as well as dedicated green spaces, a playground, and walkways.

On the other side of town, at Memorial Park, a major development is in the works that will cater to the residential intensification planned for the Te Papa peninsula.

There will be a brand new modern indoor aquatic centre offering all the water-based activities and attractions similar to Baywave, and more. This will sit alongside an indoor four-court sports facility, a cafe, and a new gym.

We also want to connect this Memorial Park complex with the central city and all the development happening there. I can see people biking and walking to work or school and stopping off at the pool or gym on their way home.

Of course, all of this will take time and there will be some disruptions and growing pains along the way.

We will need to find a balance between what we need to do now to have the best possible customer experience at our facilities, which host near two million visits a year, while at the same time planning for and building what our communities are going to need in 10 to 20 years’ time.

This requires us to be ambitious and bold, but we are not alone. Partnership is key.

For 11 years I was the director of operations at H3, Hamilton City Council’s event and venue division. Before that, I managed shopping centres for more than a decade.

It is that mix of community and commercial experience that has taught me the value of partnership.

Bay Venues and Tauranga City Council are going to work closely every step of the way with key people and organisations in our communities.

We will work with mana whenua, Sport Bay of Plenty, Tourism Bay of Plenty, Priority One, the business community, as well as the people and groups that use our venues every single day.

I am the first to admit that we don’t know everything about every activity or event that happens in our facilities, so we are going to be in regular contact with the people who do and will be getting constant feedback on what’s important. Because, at the end of the day, we can’t do this without people.

Our buildings are big, expensive assets that make all this community activity possible but, even though those assets are being improved and modernised and redeveloped, they are merely bricks and mortar.

You don’t maintain and enhance a sense of place with just buildings, it’s about what happens in them.

It’s about the passionate, committed staff working there, of whom I am in constant awe, and it’s about the regulars who turn up once, twice, three (or more!) times a week, who have made friends and formed a community with the familiar faces around them.

If you ask some of those people about Tauranga, I think there’s a chance they might mention the community facility they visit each week.

They might talk about why they go there, who they see there, or why that venue is important to them.

My hope is that in the coming months and years more of our residents will build a similar connection, and that the city’s community facilities will become yet another talking point when you are explaining to friends, family and colleagues why Tauranga is the best place in the country to live.

- Advertisement -

Related Articles