Forum North could be set for an upgrade with a $20 million budget - one of two projects that could significantly change the face of inner-city Whangarei.
The other is NorthTec's new education precinct. The Northern Advocate understands NorthTec is considering the old Toyota site on Carruth St, and is also looking for sites suitable for inner-city student accommodation.
Whangarei District Council's chief executive Rob Forlong emphasised the council's plans were not a done deal and that several options were still in play to consolidate WDC staff into one site, as well as build a new theatre for the city.
WDC 20/20 committee chairman Phil Halse said getting the council's 350 staff under one roof had been under discussion for more than seven years, with council budgeting $10.3 million for office consolidation in its Long Term Plan (LTP).
A full investigation into expanding the Forum North premises, owned by council, was under way with the results expected by the end of June. One office would eliminate duplication and the time wasted by staff travelling between offices. It would also reduce rent as the council did not own Walton Plaza and Civic Arcade, which contained a combined 190 workers, compared with 120 at Forum North and 40-plus at other sites.
Part of the investigation was progressing the idea for a $9.7 million theatre and expo centre also budgeted for in the LTP, which now may form part of the Forum North expansion. Councillor Halse said a feasibility study showed Whangarei could support a "decent-sized theatre" with about 700 seats, compared with the 350 in Forum North's Capitaine Bougainville Theatre.
"But we need to be very careful to make sure we don't compromise good things already built, like the new library," Mr Halse said.
Mr Forlong said he was not ruling out other sites for the council offices, nor would the theatre and office projects definitely be combined. The process may also involve public consultation.
"We need to stress that council has not made a final decision [and] we haven't stopped work on those other options," he said.
Meanwhile, NorthTec was leading an investigation into a tertiary education precinct in central Whangarei, with Northland Inc, the University of Auckland, Massey University and the Tertiary Education Commission listed as key partners in the Government's Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan.
NorthTec chief executive Paul Binney said while he was pleased with the precinct idea, discussions were still in the early stages.
"While we acknowledge that many people would see this as a positive step for the region, there are still a lot of issues to be resolved, not least of which is the affordability of any proposal," he said.
"No formal position has yet been taken by any of the parties, so it would be premature to comment specifically on any proposals at this stage."
Cr Halse said he supported having a student population downtown, which would work well with a council plan change to facilitate CBD apartment living.