Council to Own Methven Heritage Centre

4/10/2013 12:00 a.m.

Ashburton District Council will take ownership of the Methven Heritage Centre as part of a deal designed to get the attraction on a stronger financial footing.

The Council will provide $400,000 and the Methven Heritage Association trustees a further $200,000 to repay the remaining loan on the facility.

Council Group Manager Business Support Paul Brake, says that while everyone would have been happier if the Centre had been able to repay the debt from revenues, the deal delivers the best outcome available under the circumstances.

"This additional funding will bring Council's total contribution to around $1.2 million and in return the Council will get building assets worth in excess of $4 million," said Mr Brake.

"The challenge now is to find the best way to utilise the facility in the interests of the Methven community and the district overall."

The Methven Heritage Association came to Council in late 2012 asking for funding assistance to help pay off the final $600,000 loan outstanding on the building. The Council held off making any decision on the funding until staff had looked at all possible options around the operation and funding of the facility.

Council staff worked with the Methven Heritage Association to look at ways to better utilise the facility, including the possibility of co-locating other community organisations.

"Despite everyone's best efforts no other solution was found," said Mr Brake.

The Methven Heritage Centre has not been able to achieve its original visitor projections and Mr Brake says the tough tourism market since the facility opened has probably not helped.

"The Canterbury earthquakes, the global financial crisis and a strong New Zealand dollar have come together to create possibly the hardest period the visitor sector in Canterbury has faced," he said.

Mr Brake says special mention needs to be made of the Methven Heritage Association members and the contribution they have made.

"The Methven Heritage Association has achieved extraordinary things in getting this facility to where it is today. They have put their heart and soul into the facility since its conception and it is and always will be an outstanding facility for the town."

The Methven Heritage Association raised $5 million to build the facility and to install the Alpine and Agriculture Encounter attraction. This included Lotteries NZ grants of $2.6 million, including one of $2 million which is one of the largest ever made.

Grants were also received from the Methven-based Lochhead Charitable Trust ($1.1 million), the Community Trust of Mid and South Canterbury ($160,000) and the Mackenzie Charitable Foundation ($130,000). Council has previously provided $765,000 in grant funding to the Heritage Association.

Methven Heritage Association chairman, Philip Wareing, says his members are disappointed with the situation but philosophical about the future of the facility.

"Our members have worked very hard over the years to bring this project from an idea to a reality and we are all very proud of what the Methven community has achieved," said Mr Wareing.

Mr Wareing says he appreciates the approach Council has taken and believes it offers the Centre its best chance of a viable future.

The Council will now look at options for the future use of the facility. This will involve working closely with the trustees to identify a viable business model.

In the short term the Methven Heritage Centre will continue to operate along current lines but Mr Brake says there can be no promises that can continue.

"We will have a review undertaken of the operation and of the possible future uses of the facility to see how the Centre can best meet the needs of the Methven and district community," he said.

Any options for change will include consultation with the Methven community and the Council will look at all suggestions.

Page reviewed: 04 Oct 2013 11:43am