As reported in the Indian Weekender last fortnight, the Auckland Indian Association was looking at plans to replace the Mahatma Gandhi Centre with a new structure.

The association is looking at spending about $20 million recreating a cultural centre at its existing centre in New North Rd, in Eden Terrace.

"New Zealanders have their Te Papa, and what we want is a building that will reflect the grandeur and the rich Indian culture and history, and be the pride of the community here," Kanu Patel, the centre's chairman, was quoted in the New Zealand Herald.

Speaking to Indian Weekender, Mr Patel clarified the misconception created by earlier  media reports The Auckland Indian Association’s future vision.

“Anyone with the slightest knowledge of building costs would know that one cannot build the Taj Replica for $100 million let alone $20 million,” he said.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre was built as a multipurpose complex and the Indian Community has used the facilities extensively for twenty years. “Since it was a refurbishment of the old Findlay’s Bakery we were limited as to what improvements could be made,” Mr Patel said.

“Our intention is not to replicate The Taj Mahal but to build a cultural Centre which will be used by the community for weddings, musical and cultural programs, Indian dance, language classes, public meetings and large religious programmes,” he clarified. The Centre would provide for three hundred car parks.

“Pioneer Indians had to overcome language and racial barriers, so that their families and future generations could enjoy a better quality of life. So we should be thinking about the future generations and what facilities are we going to provide for them,” Mr Patel added.

Ultimately it is about investing to preserve our culture, way of life and our rich heritage.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre, which cost $6 million to build, sits on 1ha (2.47 acres) formerly occupied by Findlay's Bakery, which the association bought for $1.9 million in 1990.

Mr Patel said it was funded mainly by donations from Indian families, but also received contributions from the ASB Charitable Trust, Auckland City Council and Lottery Grants Board. The centre will apply to these groups to help with the new project.

"Having a piece of land this size in central Auckland is like sitting on a goldmine, and we just have to maximise its potential," Mr Patel said. "Since we own the land, we will be putting all the $20 million into the building, and I think it can go quite a long way."

The centre launched its fundraising efforts this month.

Mr Patel said ideas from the community would play a big part in determining exactly what the new structure would look like, and building would start when "enough money is raised".

"The challenge will be to find a balance in the new building, which has to be iconic and at the same time multi-functional,” Mr Patel said.

"The centre is, and will continue to be, the heart and the hub of the Indian community - where celebrations, weddings, classes and religious observations take place."

The origins of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre go back to 1937 when the Auckland Indian community bought the Gandhi Hall site. But the Great Depression and then World War-II put severe constraints for raising finances to develop the site, and as a result new development was postponed for as many as 11 years, until 1948.

“The centre’s success is clearly attributable to the humble, ordinary members achieving extraordinary results with their commitment to fund raising, working selflessly and relentlessly towards its success – a contribution far greater than that made by the wealthy and professional individuals of the community,” said Mr Patel.