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Andrew Frame – Get Real

BayBuzz13 November 2008

Napier in the 80’s was a wonderful place to grow up. It was safe, friendly, innovative and interesting.

While virtually all my generation went off to explore the corners of the globe, I never left. Why would I want to live anywhere else? The climate is gorgeous, the people are fantastic, and you’re four hours drive from pretty well anywhere in the North Island. Whenever I drive out to Bay View and look across at Napier, or see the hill lit up at night coming along the expressway or Clive, I fall in love with the city all over again. Even the bone-chilling westerly that rips down Emerson Street in the middle of winter has a special place in my heart (albeit small and remote).

Remaining when the others left can be considered both a blessing and a burden. While I have yet to embark on my grand tour of the world and experience all its diversities, I have been able to watch the city I love grow. Though at times, I wonder why I stayed.

As Napier’s popularity grew over the past decades, the promotion of our great region followed at a much-retarded rate. Growing up, the only time Hawke’s Bay featured nationally was either following a natural disaster or as an unrecognisable person (officially monikered as “a friend from the Hawke’s Bay”) making a drunken fool of themselves in Metro magazine.

While Generation X and Y’ers became alienated, cynical, experimental and savvy, the promotion of our province hit a large speed bump at wine and Art Deco, lost several wheels and retired.

It could just be that I’m just an occasional beer man but, to me, calling Hawke’s Bay “Wine Country” makes us sound like a region of pompous drunks.

Vineyards may indeed surround us and provide a portion of the region’s income, but as a branding tool, “Wine Country” has been done to death. Recently I saw it used as branding for a heavy industrial business, which tipped it over the edge for me. “I’ll have the 400hp, 5000rpm drilling rig and a bottle of Sav’?” Yeah, right!

Art Deco is a huge money-spinner for Napier. In the 80’s there was no such thing, the decorative facades painted or boarded over and ignored. The movement only started when new banks were built on opposite corners of the Emerson & Hastings Streets intersection. This involved destroying their architecturally gorgeous predecessors. The resulting outrage created the Art Deco Trust to protect the remaining buildings. Most of Napier’s CBD buildings (Emerson St in particular) didn’t receive makeovers until well into the 90’s, when the current paved mall was established. The city is more attractive for the revival, but it’s not just the buildings that make a city.

Art Deco Weekend is a mixed bag. For accommodation providers and restauranteurs – fantastic! – as all the visitors need somewhere to eat and crash for the night after soiréeing their little faux furs off.

Speak to virtually any other retailer, and they will wonder why they stayed open.

I doubt many people who take part in its feature event, the “Great Gatsby Picnic,” have read the book it takes its title from. While considered an American classic, the story reads like TV series “Dallas” meets a Serious Fraud Office investigation. “Wine Country’s” natural grape aquifers run near dry, yet there is barely a police breath-check post, or public alcohol ban within grapeshot.

The “Depression Dinner” is even worse, as people pay to eat like a pauper for the evening (once again alcohol, somehow, included). Life must be so hard. The weekend can feel insultingly bourgeois.

As does our city’s mascot, Bertie Wooster. P.G. Wodehouse’s farcical little dandy. Could our promoters have thought of a more shallow mascot for this fine city? Was his butler, Geeves, too smart, too servile, or was Paris Hilton just not available?

The creation of “Deco Decanted”, the summer event’s mid-winter cousin, acts as proof of the city’s complete lack of original promotion or thought.

What will happen to Napier’s tourism when Art Deco Weekend eventually appears in the “Uncool” section of Metro magazine or the Weekend Herald that all the “friends from Hawke’s Bay” aspire to? Or the money falls out the bottom of the wine vat?

But enough wingeing. If I were head of Napier City Marketing, this is what I’d do:

Stop trying to recreate Ponsonby or Paris in our inner city. Our greatest asset is our region and people. We can have similarities to those places, but we are Napier, we are unique.

Use the Soundshell! With its wide-open space, proximity to the heart of town and such a  beautiful vista, why is it such a waste? Imagine a month of summer evening concerts there with the moon rising out of the sea. It would be fantastic!

And while we’re at it, keep town open later on summer evenings. This is a double-edged sword. People aren’t in town, because nothing is open. And nothing is open, because people aren’t in town. We need trailblazers. A café here, a shop there open later and they will come. Make it a market, music, the more, the merrier. Why just limit it to Art Deco Weekend?

International Day of the Child got handed off to the babysitters to make way for the Great Long Lunch. Sailing regattas, fishing competitions and offshore powerboat racing were all relegated to Ahuriri. Make them city and Hawke Bay-wide events. Share the love and we will all share the benefits.

Have victory parades and parties for our victorious Magpies, Hawks and Rovers where the public can meet their local sporting heroes. Support of local events needs to be far less shallow than it currently is. Especially if we are to secure Napier as a base and venue for the likes of Rugby World Cup teams.

Lastly, include everyone. I’m not a big wine person and my generation really doesn’t care about Art Deco, yet that is all the city pushes.

The biggest question to be asked, though, must be: “Why have none of these things happened yet?”

For the past decade our city’s promotional strategy has been so entrenched and blinkered by its architectural and alcoholic cash cows that we have lost forward momentum. Criticise it or attempt to inject young, new approaches and you are ignored and ostracised. We must expunge these complacencies and the complacent people who protect them, while shunning new ideas.

Is it any wonder all the bright minds go elsewhere out of frustration when the blinkers go on and the goalposts are moved once again?

BayBuzz13 November 2008

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