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The reopening of “The Boathouse” on Wakefield Quay last Friday came at the end of a toxic week in Parliament. It reminded me of so much that is good in our community and how lucky we are to live in Nelson.

The building was conceived in 1888 by the Nelson Rowing Club but was not completed until 1906.  In the 1930s 40s and 50s it was Nelson’s main Saturday night dance venue and was sometimes packed with over a thousand party goers. It fell into disrepair in the 1970s until it got so bad that in 1985 the Nelson Council issued a demolition order. It was saved by the initiative of Nelson solicitor Nick Moore who corralled 25 other Nelson residents to put up $1,000 each to purchase the building and form the Boathouse Society.  The Society’s purpose was to restore the building and encourage recreational and conservational use of the surrounding waterfront and harbour.

The Boathouse under the Society’s ownership has been a venue for thousands of community and family events over the past 33 years. Like so many Nelsonians I have shared tears there of joy there at weddings and sadness at funerals. I’ve enjoyed music of every variety and danced there long and badly. It’s been the venue for dozens of fund raisers and debates over community issues. A special aspect of this venue is that people can retreat on to the deck and soak up the vista of our beautiful harbour, bay and mountains.

The devastation wreaked on the Boathouse by Cyclone Fehi on 1 February was gut wrenching to see. The floors were munted and the foundations were extensively damaged. I was inundated with Nelsonians pleas to ensure we saved the Grand Old Dame again.

The cost has been more than half a million dollars. I have lobbied for support of organisations like the Rata Foundation represented at the opening by Mike Rutledge. There were also contributions from Heritage NZ, Pub Charity, NCC and other generous donors through Give a Little.  The bulk of the credit belongs to Society Chair Annie Henry, her capable committee and the dedicated staff led by Manager Amie-Jo Trayes.       

The stunning new beechwood floors were recovered from cyclone-felled trees in Karamea made possible by legislation I put through Parliament to allow the recovery of wind-blown dead trees. This legislation was vigorously opposed by the Labour and Green parties, but reinforces my view of practical environmentalism where we can save heritage buildings with wood that would otherwise go to waste.   

The reopening of The Boathouse is a powerful symbol of the strength of our community spirit, the value we place on heritage and our love of the waterfront.  Check out the free open day at The Boathouse on Sunday 28 October 10am-4pm.  Congrats to the Society for saving it. It is now time for us all to enjoy this Nelson gem.

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