Esler steps aside as museum’s chair

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CHANGE is coming for the Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG).

SMAG Trust chairman Lloyd Esler, who is also an Invercargill City councillor, said he would be handing over the chair position to Invercargill City councillor Toni Biddle at the trust’s general meeting today, November 2.

Mr Esler has held the position since February 2016 following Darren Ludlow’s resignation.

Miss Biddle had a “clear vision” for the museum’s future and had been quite active organising a way forward, he said.

Mr Esler was also stepping down from the SMAG board.

“My place as one of the three Invercargill City Council [ICC] reps on the board will be taken by Rebecca Amundsen. Always good to get fresh ideas around the table.”

The Southland Express contacted Miss Biddle, but she said she was not currently in a position to comment.

Mr Esler said a new plan was being proposed “to redevelop within the pyramid building”.

Other structural changes within the pyramid could come later, which depended on an engineer’s report, he said.

SMAG director Paul Horner said an engineer’s report on the building was waiting to be assessed by the ICC building control team, which already had “quite an amount” of work to do assessing all the city’s buildings to determine and prioritise which properties needed to be brought up to code to comply with new regulations.

At some point, adult visitors from outside the region would be charged an entry fee, he said.

A kakaporium, where kakapo chicks are raised before being returned to the wild, had been proposed to be located at the museum, but was now “in limbo”.

“We would love to do that [build and equip an on-site kakaporium], but it’s dependent on a funding grant to pay for it,” Mr Horner said.

A funding application for the kakaporium had previously been prepared for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Tourism Growth Partnership Fund, but this fund had since been replaced by the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which was solely for infrastructure projects such as roading, toilets, bridges and car parks, he said.

In May 2015, the SMAG Trust board released a revised $43 million redevelopment plan for the museum.

Mr Esler said despite the high cultural value of the museum, the cost of the original “grandiose” plan had been “too much [for funders] to stomach”, so the plans had been scaled back.

“It’s been a long process, we’ve had lots of different plans but the difficulty has been sourcing funds. The financial return [of the museum] is minuscule because there is no entry fee… the [return on] investment from the future is [going to come from] tourism,” Mr Esler said.

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