Besides a stadium development for Dunedin! More harping.

Dunedin’s “heritage tourism” future…

What if? has a recent thread The Chronicals of Yarnia (formerly known as “What else! Future options for Dunedin include…”), a temporary hold-all for ideas that with exploration could benefit Dunedin’s liveability for future generations.

Yarnia is a deliberately “loose” thread. The name change resulted from the thread’s capture by writers revisiting stadium and council politics about which they feel deeply. This was NOT talking up Dunedin’s potential, however. Other writers responded in the intended spirit of the thread, for this (sigh) we warmly thank them.

When a topical item like the “prison one” below comes up by media or other avenue, we like to give the people involved front billing at What if?. Similarly, in future, we will highlight the suggestions, knowledge and expertise, for example, of people like David and Phil who regularly post at What if?. If you read the Yarnia posts, you’ll quickly understand why.

Envisioning complementary components of Dunedin’s future – our shared business future – will always be more valuable economically and culturally than becoming subservient to the burdens (real or fictional) of the stadium project, an ad hoc project for which a community consensus never happened. The stadium has arisen due to powerful political dealings, and leanings.

The stadium is a rather small and probably unsustainable component of what Dunedin means to residents and visitors, if the community would agree some projects that add to the cultural depth and understanding of our place.
(well OK maybe the stadium does some of this…)

As the historic phenomenon Dunedin truly is – the heritage component of the city has been uncoordinated as a planning strategy for generating “wealth”. It hasn’t been ideationally explored or positively exploited to express our contemporary selves. How did we miss that obvious track?!

Concrete strategy, coordination and excellence are sorely needed, from entrepreneurial people who passionately love Dunedin for its heritage potential, like nowhere else.

The last three words are heavily inscribed with meaning.


Local resident and retired chartered accountant Stewart Harvey has been interested in the fate of the old Dunedin Prison for many years.

### ODT Online Thu, 3 Dec 2009
Opinion: Unlocking old jail’s potential
By Stewart Harvey
Stewart Harvey argues that the Dunedin Prison is too precious to be simply turned into another backpackers or restaurant. Instead, he suggests, it could become a heritage tourist attraction.
Read more

I absolutely support Stewart’s views about the way forward for the prison building’s future. Further, I would expand on these to comprehensively “read” the cultural and economic significance and business potential of not only the immediate heritage precinct, but also the CBD area as a whole.

This will be explored in future posts, and by transferral eventually to the new website blog Paul is templating now (it’s true, good things take longer).


Back to the old prison.
Some prominent heritage persons in town have continually “missed the bus” in describing (unresearched) options for the historic building’s future use – including visitor Neil Cossons – by thinking that more intrusive adaptive reuse is the way to ensure its business viability.

I’m a great supporter of adaptive reuse, but NOT for Dunedin’s old prison. The building has more value to the regional economy if its internal fabric is retained largely as is – we need to maintain the original fabric and partitions, and adapt our human behaviour and activities within it to fit, to create the viable business footing.

The parties quietly calling for irreversible upheaval of its interior (they wouldn’t put it like this; it would be the cumulative effect), such as the Southern Heritage Trust, are approaching the building’s future use wrongly in terms of watering down its potential impacts. These “impacts” are the building’s selling points (deliberately not defined here).

Stewart Harvey is a man of foresight, visitation and research. His idea to link what could happen at the prison to what may at the Dunedin Courthouse – in explaining the region’s legal and criminal history, including the insuperable ties to the Faculty of Law at University of Otago – provides very rich pickings indeed.

A few years ago, as NZHPT Otago branch chair, I was consulting alongside NZHPT staff on the redevelopment of the Dunedin Courthouse. Aside from site meetings about building redevelopment matters, we met several times with Courts Manager Maria Bradshaw to discuss the setting up of a Friends of Dunedin Courthouse organisation, at her behest. The Friends role, in conjunction with Courts officials, would oversee the building’s future public visitor, fundraising and events potential, to assist projects providing on-site explanation, exhibition, enactment and interpretation of the history and persons associated with the Dunedin courts. Sadly, the Friends idea lost momentum following the Court Manager’s relocation to Auckland.

As Stewart implies, it’s time to organise an interested body of people with historical knowledge and business expertise, that can decide the future of the prison building.

And yes, I will push the notion further by saying we should “straightaway” be looking at the prison and the courthouse buildings combined as a sound heritage tourism destination within the immediate heritage precinct…discovering a purpose that fits comfortably alongside schedules imposed by the courts’ routine workday operations.

Post by Elizabeth Kerr

1 Comment

Filed under Stadiums

One response to “Besides a stadium development for Dunedin! More harping.

  1. Phil

    I agree entirely with your assessment of the Lower Stuart Street precinct, Elizabeth. The Court House and Prison building are underrated attractions. By ourselves only. I’ve met a few people over the years through Europe who have travelled through Dunedin while on holiday. I say travelled through, because, like most European tourists, they were en route to Queenstown, Milford Sound and the West Coast. They come here primarily for the natural scenery (and future mining projects therein). However, every one without fail, no matter how long ago it was, remembers the Railway Station as the highlight of their visit. It is so iconic worldwide that it remains fixed in memories years later. Hopefully those lovely banners in front of, do not. What they have also asked of me, are what were the lovely buildings that one could see when one stood at the Railway Station and looked back. I’ve always presumed they weren’t referring to Best Cafe. Again, they were buildings that continued to publicise the city as a destination, long after the holiday was finished. Often, they had even forgotten the name of the city. But not those 3 buildings.

    Anzac Square is the tourism architectural Mecca of Dunedin, and I support any and all attempts to secure the future of that region as such.

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