Wellington-based Kahui Legal has opened an office in downtown Rotorua, which will allow it to more effectively service clients in the region and explore the growing opportunities in the Maori land space in particular.
"We have always had a very strong client base here in Rotorua, but also in Taupo, Tauranga, Whakatane, and Opotiki," said partner Damien Stone.
"The opening of the firm's office is also a broader sign of increasing Maori economic development activity within the region."
Mr Stone said that in the Bay of Plenty generally, and in Rotorua especially, there were still large tracts of Maori-owned land.
And while the firm was involved in Treaty settlement work, he noted there was growing activity in developing previously under-utilised Maori land.
"That's really a driver now," he said. "People are starting to think carefully about ways to utilise their land, so there's quite a bit of activity happening in that space for us."
Anthony Olsen, the Maori business representative on the Bay of Connections governance group, said the Bay of Plenty was now probably the lead region in terms of getting government support for economic development.
As well as some outstanding Treaty settlements, there were opportunities with iwi that had received settlements and were looking for opportunities to invest, he said.
Mr Olsen said there was also a review of the Maori Land Act under way that was looking to free up development opportunities for previously uneconomic Maori land. Meanwhile, Te Tumu Paeroa - the Maori Trustee - was looking to be more active in managing land blocks on behalf of owners.
"The Bay of Plenty has huge chunks of Maori land that have economic development opportunities."
Mr Stone said the firm had been involved in a number of significant regional developments in recent years, including Treaty settlements from Tauranga to Taupo.
The firm had been thinking for years of opening an office in Rotorua, with the timing in part the result of two former Bay of Plenty residents working in the Wellington office wanting to relocate home. The recent opening of the GHA Building in Fenton St provided an opportune time to set up a Rotorua office, he said.
Associate Natalie Coates is working fulltime in the office and consultant Kiritapu Allan part-time, with Mr Stone coming up for a couple of days every fortnight at this stage.
The plan is for him to also relocate to the region when the time is right.
Rotorua Lakes Council inner city portfolio lead Karen Hunt said the opening of the high profile law firm's office downtown indicated that the concerted effort by council and the business community to revitalise the inner city was now paying dividends.
"We have seen several new businesses open up downtown, and all of these businesses are praising the reinvigorated atmosphere to be found in the city," she said.
"We have also seen foot traffic increase in the CBD, with a solid 12 per cent increase in 2015 alone on the main street spine of the inner city where efforts have been focused."
Deputy mayor and economic growth portfolio lead Dave Donaldson said there had also been a 2.1 per cent growth in employment in the inner city.
"This is a marked turnaround from 2013 when the revitalisation project started and employment was registering a negative change of -2.5 per cent. The majority of this growth has been focused around traditional city office jobs, which is a reflection of the degree to which mainstream employers are returning to the CBD."
* Established in 2003
* Offices in Wellington and Rotorua
* Extensive experience in advising on Maori issues across a range of areas
* A finalist in the NZ Law Awards in 2015.