Miramar, It's Up And Coming

I know, I know - this blog is turning into a blog about Miramar ... well, what would you expect from @MiramarMike

Anywho, check out a good Miramar write-up on Stuff, "Inside Miramar's new feel - Can Miramar change its shabby image?" by Sarah Catherall.

Once again I'm gonna copy-n-paste the article into this post as Stuff tend to remove them after a random amount of time - if you've a problem with this let me know and I'll reluctantly delete it
Driving along Miramar Ave, there are few signs that this is the gateway to a booming suburb. Past run-down car workshops and a service station, flanked by a supermarket and a chemist, it's still representative of the old Miramar, an eastern suburb on a peninsula that in days gone by was home to a gasworks and manufacturing industry.

But around the corner in Park Rd is the revamped Roxy Cinema, resplendent in a $7 million 1930s-style refit, reminiscent of a time when going to the cinema was a fancy occasion. Until now, there have been few signs that this finger of land is where blockbusters are made, with facilities scattered around a sprawling collection of studios, workshops and post-production film sites on a zig-zag of side streets.

It's been about a decade now since Sir Peter Jackson and his films first started to pour money into Miramar, and over that time, the area has evolved. Many of the old industries have gone, overtaken by creative industries.

But there's more going on than films in Miramar and its surrounds. The entire eastern suburbs are booming, coastal property prices are rocketing, and the area is becoming a destination for foodies, who can now choose from a growing array of cafes and restaurants popping up on street corners.

Other businesses are moving in too, such as graphic designers and IT specialists, and more are queuing to find commercial space. The revamped Wellington International Airport has added to this growth, and the sports stadium on Cobham Dr will also be a drawcard. The new cinema will provide dozens of jobs, on top of the additional 1200-odd extra contractors moving in to work on The Hobbit, which started filming this week.

With that in mind, there's a feeling that the peninsula could do more to promote itself to visitors and prospective residents, and give itself an identity.

It has beaches and mountainbiking tracks, and much of Wellington's military and Maori history is sited there.

Local business group Miramar Enterprise Trust has contracted a designer, Gary Stewart, who is working on rebranding the area, following in the footsteps of Auckland's Devonport and Petone's Jackson St.

Stewart says: "Ultimately the goal is to encourage people to visit, fall in love and move home or business here. We'd also like people to understand there's more than just a movie studio here, although we are immensely proud of that. There's a history to the peninsula that stretches back to Kupe."

But there's a desire to do more, and the enterprise trust wants the future of Shelly Bay and its decaying buildings sorted. Under its vision, Mt Crawford Prison would be turned into a five-star hotel with cable-car access and the area's military and pa sites would be promoted as tourist destinations.

With the future of the peninsula still under review, trust chairman Allan Probert says: "The whole area in control of the military and Corrections is about 90 hectares. About 10 to 15 hectares could be made into some sort of historic reserve. We'd like to see picnic tables, the sites cleaned up and preserved so people can learn about them and see them. Richard Taylor [head of Weta Workshop] wants to see a sculpture park."

The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, which owns land at Shelly Bay and has first right of refusal on defence force land has no immediate plans to develop the area. According to settlement trust chairman Sir Ngatata Love the immediate focus has been on tidying up the site, tenanting space that is available and getting a function centre up and running.

Probert, the local vet, says locals fear they may be excluded from decision- making.

"If there was a pragmatic agreement by the community to see part of the area rezoned, then we could have an area of protected open space, and a historic reserve, and some areas of sympathetic commercial development to pay for it, too."

When Oscar winner and Roxy owner Jamie Selkirk first came out to work at Jackson's Camperdown Studios in the late 1990s, Miramar was like a ghost town.

"It was dead. It was a lonely suburb," says the editor and producer, who won an Oscar for his work on the Fellowship of the Ring.

Selkirk lives in town, but spends much of his day out in Miramar, now turning his attention to the cinema, although he still manages Stone Street Studios and co-owns the Weta businesses.

He loves the vibe of the peninsula, and can get everything there that he needs, including a decent cup of coffee and lunch.

And it's a sign of the suburb's growth that Selkirk and his team of investors, including wife Ann and Richard Taylor and his wife, Tania Rodger, are willing to risk about $7 million developing a cinema in the suburbs.

Selkirk says: "We're making movies out here, so we thought it would be a cool thing to do for Miramar. When overseas people come here, too, there's been nowhere local to take them, and now there'll be a cinema, bar and restaurant where they can meet."

Selkirk is one of many opposed to the idea of a "Wellywood" sign being erected on the peninsula hillside, which he thinks would be tacky. The airport was granted resource consent for a Hollywood-style sign to stand 3.5 metres high and span 28m along the airport-owned hillside next to Miramar cutting. Still under review, everyone from Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) to Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has opposed it.

Sitting in his vet clinic, Probert confesses that if he had his way, the peninsula sign would read "Middle-earth", to push its film-making story. "That makes you think of fantasy and dreams and chivalry and valour and all those cool things we could promote out here."

He'd also like gold stars stamped into the pavement when a famous film star visits the area, similar to those gracing the streets of Hollywood. "There is no shame in realising that we are the creative suburb of Wellington."

However, he's frustrated. He wants the shabby township cleaned up. Three businesses are currently looking for sites. "We've got this wonderful new theatre, but it's all a bit dowdy around it."

He credits Jackson and the film industry for much of the local growth, describing the film-maker as "both villain and hero out here". "He has put the suburb on the map, but that means that more people want to live out here or run their businesses here. I think that Peter has been fantastic for the area but some have struggled to adapt to the new Miramar. People grumble that the mower shop isn't here anymore, and bloody Peter Jackson has pushed my rates up."

One of those grumbling is the owner of Miramar Gift and Lotto Shop. He doesn't want to be named, but says the area's growth has pushed his rates up. His 23-year-old son can't afford to buy a house in the area. The retailer has lived in Miramar for 33 years, and says: "There are things we have lost. We used to have a bank, and we used to have a butcher. Our valuations have gone up out here all because of Wellywood, and that means my costs have gone up, but there's not the foot traffic. I'm hoping that the new cinema will bring more people."

He is also hoping that the city council will make the area more attractive.

Wellington City Council's urban design manager, Brian Hannah, says the council is hoping to create a public space in the township that can be closed off for community events or local markets. As a start, they'll illuminate the central pohutakawa tree at night to create a focal point. Parking is also under pressure.

Valentina Dias, co-owner of Cafe Polo near Weta Workshop, already sees that Miramar and its peninsula are becoming a destination. "It's more than just Weta now," she says.

When Dias first bought Cafe Polo five years ago, she struggled to lure chefs and waiting staff from high-profile restaurants in the CBD. A co-investor in the Roxy Cinema, and running its restaurant, Coco, she was swamped with applications for jobs at the Roxy, with about 140 hospitality workers hoping to work in either the cinema or its bar or restaurant. Growth has taken off in the past five years, and Dias has watched businesses open out her way, including Larder Cafe, on Darlington Rd, which is a stone's throw from Weta Workshop. The Gipsy Kitchen is another cafe that has opened, in Strathmore, and its owners were once Jackson's personal chefs.

However, many of those on the peninsula are keen to play down Jackson's role in changing the place, and also respect his quest for privacy.

Ted Jewett, a local real estate owner, says that the evolution of the film industry has helped push up rents in the area, but property prices in Miramar haven't moved more than city-wide averages. They've escalated over the hill in Karaka Bay, though, and also in Seatoun, but Jewett says that's because Seatoun is both a desirable coastal suburb and contains less than 600 houses so supply is low.

Another real estate agent, Steve Fejos, of Remax Leaders, says locals can rent out executive properties for $1000-a-week plus, thanks to the film industry.

It costs about $400,000 to $600,000 to buy a three-bedroom house in Miramar on the flat, depending on the location. "It's a middle to upper-class area, and the prices reflect that. Even though prices have softened here as they have elsewhere, in some cases, if people sell, they can't get back in."

But Fejos says the area is a bit tired, and that relates to its history as an industrial area, home to the former gas works. "I'm 51 and I remember going out to Miramar and smelling the gas," he says.

"Miramar has lost its manufacturing base, and it has changed a lot. It has become a lot more self-sufficient now, and you don't have to go into town if you're out in the eastern suburbs as everything is there."

According to QV, the biggest growth areas in property values in the Wellington region since the mid-80s are coastal areas, particularly in the eastern suburbs. The biggest valuation rises have been for properties in Breaker Bay, Owhiro Bay, Karaka Bay, Houghton Bay and Seatoun, in that order, according to Jonno Ingerson, QV's research director.

Average houses prices in Breaker Bay have soared in value from $132,842 in 1995, to $668,034 last year a 403 per cent increase. Miramar's houses have increased from an average $155,565 in 1995, to $467,017, up by 200 per cent. The average capital value for homes in Seatoun has gone up from $245,621 to $904,544 over the same time, up by 280 per cent.

If a school is a sign of how an area changes over time, then Miramar North is it. Joyce Adam has worked there for 18 years and is now the principal. Weta Workshop is on the school's doorstep, and is popular with parents working there.

When she first started, 40 per cent of the school population was Maori. Many of the Mt Crawford prison staff had children at the school, as they got subsidised housing. The Maori roll has dropped to 13 per cent now, and the school has risen from a decile six to a decile eight status as the demographics have changed.

In her early days out there, Interlock Industries had a factory this relocated to Auckland and there was a sewing plant. But about 20 of the 280 school pupils now hail from overseas, as their parents work at Weta, and some of them speak English as a second language.

"It's lovely and it's added a freshness and vitality to our school," she says. "There are creative things happening around us, and it's like the changing face of Miramar. It used to be really quiet out here, and you'd be thinking, where is everyone? We felt very isolated but it's now thriving."

Among those joining this new creative workforce is Lucas Putnam, who shifted from California to work on the Lord of the Rings films in 2001. He's now a New Zealand citizen, and is working at Weta Digital on The Hobbit. He and his partner, Marianne Elliot, a human rights lawyer, live in Kilbirnie, and are about to open a Mexican restaurant, La Boca Loca, down the road from the cinema. For Putnam, it's a dream that is finally being realised. "I've been hanging out for Mexican food since I arrived here, as that's what I love eating. There are a lot of us here at Weta like me, too," he says.

A recent arrival to the peninsula is his friend, Mexican chef Chris Martinez, who moved from Puerto Varta, where he ran a restaurant. "There are a lot of Americans here, so we think this food will be popular," he says.

Meanwhile, long-term resident Kim Chin, owner of Miramar Fruit Supply, has seen the suburb change over his lifetime. As a child, Chin went to the Roxy it held its last screening in 1964 and remembers arriving early as the first 10 to 15 people got in for free. "I love it out here, and we are very busy with all the new people here, too," he says.

But designer Stewart, who lives in Worser Bay, says the area doesn't yet have presence and that's the reason for giving it an identity. "It's a collection of small suburbs or hamlets but there's not a lot of connection. We're feeling that, aside from Peter Jackson, we're the forgotten jewel in Wellington's crown. People come out here to do a triathalon or go to the beach, but there is a bunch of other stuff out here that should be known about."

For example, Seatoun beach was the landing site of Kupe, the first Polynesian explorer to visit the harbour.

"Out here, it's a place of arrival. Film is part of a bigger picture. There are a huge number of creative people that live and work out here. There's a lot of firepower that drives Wellington's creative capital. The pitch that we're taking is that this is a great place where ideas begin and start."


  1. I'm seriously concerned, miramar, is in my 5 year plan, and i don;t want the world knowing how awesome it is, i won't be able to afford to move there

  2. Make it a 1-2 year plan and you'll be fine


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