Civic Amenities Group chairman Paul Adams says Tauranga CBD is a "disgrace", with many buildings not fit for purpose and has lashed out at successive councils for being "too timid to make the hard calls".
"It looks and performs like an outdated village," he said.
[Tauranga CBD] is lacking the heart and soul required to attract people into the city to enjoy the vibrancy that the fifth-largest city in New Zealand deserves.
It was "lacking the heart and soul required to attract people into the city to enjoy the vibrancy that the fifth-largest city in New Zealand deserves," Mr Adams said.
"We need to stop the talkfest trying to promote Tauranga CBD in its present form, as the live, work, play city, and get to work to create that image genuinely."
Successive councils had lacked the vision to match the growth in population and had kept rates artificially low to try and placate the vocal minority, Mr Adams said.
Elected members had been "too timid to make the hard calls that they were elected to make", Mr Adams said, and it could become a focus of this year's local body elections.
But he acknowledged the new university campus that would open at the beginning of 2019 had a projected economic benefit of about $250 million per year, which would create many other business opportunities.
Part of the city is looking old and tired.
The city's natural assets were also among the best in the country, he said.
Mayor Stuart Crosby said the city centre "has started our journey of positive transformation".
He agreed "part of the city is looking old and tired".
But the council had made significant rate increases over the last 12 years to provide basic infrastructure that had come at the expense of the ability to invest in amenities, he said.
"Many councils have had to make choices between providing infrastructure like water, waste water and roading, etc, and that has come at the expense of our ability to invest in amenities. I do agree with him on that," he said.
"I hope it's an election issue as it is certainly important."
The council also had a critical decision to make later this year regarding its buildings because about 400 staff were shifted into different sites due to a toxic mould outbreak in 2015.
There were opportunities to partner with the private sector and it had already been approached by four developers.
"In my view I think it is highly unlikely council will own and build the next building. Ratepayers don't need to be alarmed that we will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on buildings."
Priority One business relocations manager Max Mason said the Trustpower building and the $40 million university precinct that had the green light were "game changers".
"They represent very credible optimism and confidence in Tauranga's city centre."
The landscape within the city was also changing, he said.
"Tauranga is following the international trend towards a city centre that is transitioning from mostly retail to a more mixed-use area of accommodation, entertainment, education, events, sport, tourism, office-based work, professional and personal services, arts and culture offerings, and recreation and fitness."
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Property Managers Group chief executive Scott Mckenzie said there had been a number of parties pushing for a CBD rejuvenation and there was some energy present in the market now. It had just leased 1100sq m in its Spring St building and it had a number of smaller tenancies lined up to lease this month, he said.
Ray White Commercial Tauranga leasing and sales team leader Philip Hunt said it had leased more than 30 spaces in 2015, which was an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year.
It had finished 2015 on a positive note with two major leases, including one that was in excess of 1000sq m, "so that is extremely positive", and the CBD was maturing into a commercial centre.
Bayleys Tauranga commercial manager Dickie Burman said it had also experienced a lift in activity.