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After more than two years, The Vibe in Thames will be dismantled and Mary St reopened to traffic. FILE PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Goodbye, Vibe: Thames’ Mary St to reopen

Money talks and so does the public – after more than two years, Thames Community Board members have looked in their coffers and listened to the controversy and have decided to remove Create the Vibe. KELLEY TANTAU reports.

It’s been 28 months – four more than the initial “lifespan” of the trial – and elected members have now voted to remove Create the Vibe and reopen Mary St to traffic.
The Thames Community Board was implored by its chair to vote with their “heads, not their hearts” at its meeting on August 2, and after more than an hour of discussion, head prevailed.
While some board members didn’t jump at the chance to dismantle the Innovating Streets project, with one saying they felt “forced” to make the decision, others noted the Vibe’s divisiveness and the money it would cost to keep the space permanent – money they didn’t have, Cr Peter Revell said.
“Budget is a very significant thing we need to take into account and, personally, I think it would be reckless of us to spend one cent more than $20,000 on this particular project.
“I think we’d be crazy to look at half-a-million to one million dollars to make The Vibe permanent,” he said.

The financial figures come from a WSP report that collated survey results and overall recommended to elected members that Create the Vibe shouldn’t be made permanent.
It said that the project didn’t achieve its objectives to create a civic heart with vitality; to provide a safe and accessible town centre; and to create community ownership. Most concerningly, the report said, there was a “resulting lack of buy-in from the wider community”.
Therefore, removing the Vibe would cost council just $20,000 – as opposed to $500,000 to $1m to make it permanent.
According to council, the overall “adaptive urbanism” initiative cost $336,587 and was 90 per cent funded by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency and 10 per cent by council.
The agency recently told The Profile that as of October, 2021, 49 of its 62 projects remained in place, three projects were installed permanently, four were removed earlier than their original proposed timeline, and six were projects designed to be short term events and therefore were no longer in place.
Cr Martin Rodley said he felt “let down” by Waka Kotahi, saying the agency promised support with things such as roading assessments back when the project first came to the fore.
“I felt that my decision to support the Vibe last term was based around those things happening, and it’s fair to say that [following] the reaction that other communities have had towards Innovating Streets – people attacking them with tractors and vandalising them – that Waka Kotahi abandoned us a little bit,” he said.
“I feel that we have been let down by them.”

Create the Vibe was touted as becoming “a shared civic hub space for people to gather on Mary St at the corner with Pollen St – right in the middle of things… and where a good town square should be”.
The pedestrian area was declared ‘Best Street’ at the Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards on February 17, 2022.
However, two petitions – one ‘for’ and one ‘against’ The Vibe were presented to elected members during its lifetime, while businesses along the main drag spoke of loss of income and of the space attracting anti-social behaviours and drug use.
Before a decision was reached, a well-attended public forum exemplified the split response to The Vibe.
On behalf of the business community, Sue Lewis-O’Halloran from the Thames Business Association urged the board to “do the right thing” and immediately reopen Mary St, putting an end to the “divisiveness that has impacted so many businesses and our community for nearly three years”.
Villager Cafe owner Jason Liddiard, however, said it would be “a total tragedy” to throw away The Vibe.
Nonetheless, after hearing from staff that “sometimes there’s no good middle-road option”, board chair Adrian Catran started discussions about dismantling The Vibe and reinstating Mary St to how it was 28 months ago. After a number of amendments to wording, it was unanimously voted to wave ‘goodbye’ to The Vibe and reopen the road.
Board member Holly Mackenzie said the project had been “tainted by terrible, negative vibes” and she was reluctant to vote on the option to dismantle.
“It’s really hard for me to make a decision, and I feel like it’s a forced decision because, unfortunately, the majority of the voices in here are negative ones,” she said.
“I think the concept of The Vibe is a great idea and I love the purpose of it. I think it puts progression into Thames and I think that’s why the older generation may be a bit frightened by it. Unfortunately, I’m only one voice.”
The board also voted to ask its chief executive to investigate the implementation of traffic calming upgrades to improve the quality of the adjacent streetscape for active transport. It also sought an investigation into establishing a 30kmh speed limit in the surrounding area.
No date to reopen Mary St was announced as part of the decision.