The cordon around the Christchurch CBD red zone should hopefully be gone by April, the head of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority says.
Yesterday the geotechnical report by engineering consultants Tonkin & Taylor found "no areas within the CBD or adjacent commercial areas were identified as having ground conditions that would preclude rebuilding on those sites".
Numerous central Christchurch buildings have been demolished as a result of damage sustained in the February 22 earthquake, and many retailers and residents have fled to the suburbs or left the city.
Some, such as property investor Sir Bob Jones, have suggested it is not worth rebuilding the central city.
But local leaders believe this latest report builds on a growing sense of optimism for returning to the area.
Christchurch's City Mall reopened in October, using shipping containers for temporary retail space.
CERA chief executive Roger Sutton told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report he was confident businesses will return to the CBD.
"I think most of the rebuilding will happen where we have previously had sites. The geotechnical report says the land is ready to go," Mr Sutton said.
"All the tenants I talk to that are out in the suburbs, they want to be back. They like the idea of being back in the CBD surrounded by other businesses."
With demolitions continuing across the central city, Mr Sutton hoped to have the majority of the CBD open again by April.
"We hope to have the wider city-wide cordon gone. There will still be some big buildings cordoned off as we pull them down, but by April the main cordon - we hope to have that gone."
Meanwhile business leaders say the Tonkin & Taylor report will give people the confidence to return.
"It's a really important step forward," Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said of the report.
"It provides another level of certainty in terms of the rebuilding of Christchurch."
Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said people were already returning to City Mall and for tours of the damage in the area, and the report would further strengthen their sense of security.
The report says more "robust foundation design and/or ground improvement" may be required in rebuilding in the central city.
The chairman of the central Christchurch property owners group Core, Ernest Duval, said the report helped answer the "big questions" about the future of the area.
For businesses considering a return "it will come down to a question of cost".
Property investors and potential tenants would have to do the numbers on what type of buildings could be rebuilt and what sought of rents would be required.
"Certainly there is a desire for many businesses that feel their profile is better served in the city. And because of that many corporates have taken short term or medium-term leases outside of Christchurch until the central city situation is clarified."
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said the report was timely, and would give land and property owners more certainty and confidence to begin to plan for the future.
"As we had originally thought, detailed and comprehensive ground investigations and geotechnical assessments will still be required for individual sites before owners can begin their developments."
A 30m setback from the Avon River would deal with some of the worst hit areas in the central city.