A boldnew vision for Tauranga's embattled downtown has emerged from the shock discovery of toxic black mould in the council's leaking civic block.
Instead of the buildings being a problem that needed to be patched up, community groups have urged the council to treat it as an opportunity to solve long-standing downtown issues, including that the best site for a museum was in the city's cultural heart - not Cliff Rd.
"We are a contemporary city, let's move into the future," Phil Green of the Grace Rd and Neighbourhood Residents Association said.
Engineers have identified "significant" weathertightness problems and a moderate earthquake risk in two of the four buildings that made up the civic centre.
A report due to go to the council this week said the issues with the buildings were serious enough to warrant other options being considered - beyond remedying structural issues. Councillors will consider looking at all the issues and opportunities associated with the future of the buildings.
Mr Green, an architectural designer, has suggested shifting the civic offices to a new building on the the council-owned former TV-3 building foundations opposite Baycourt.
He said the buildings at the Wharf St end of the civic block had nothing going for them, leaked, and should be demolished. The space could become an open plaza.
Mr Green said the original 1960s administration building at the Hamilton St end of the site had some merit and could be stripped back to its bones and rebuilt as the museum. It would also incorporate the library's New Zealand Room archives, leaving the main library to go into the ground floor of the new building in Durham St.
"The leaking buildings have become the catalyst to change the city centre into something that we can all be proud of. It will give us that heart that has been lacking," he said.
Mr Green said others were thinking along similar lines including Tauranga's influential new Civic Amenities Group, submitters to the council's 10-year plan and councillors. Architectural designers planned to hold a public forum on the issue in August or September.
He also saw a merit in turning Willow St where it fronted the civic block and art gallery into a pedestrian precinct that linked through to The Strand and waterfront. The bus terminus would shift to Durham St.
Mayor Stuart Crosby agreed that the time was right to look at the big picture and leverage the council's planned $40 million investment in the CBD to stimulate the downtown. It included a $4m contingency fund to fix the civic buildings, up to $28m for a new parking building and $8m on the waterfront upgrade.
He said the council needed to consider that most big commercial entities and government departments did not own their buildings.
Mr Crosby supported the sentiments of Mr Green, including the museum being sited in the downtown, but not all the details. He said the newer civic buildings still had life left in them once they had been fixed.
He advocated running a competition to pick up on all the ideas floating around, working up to a final proposal by the end of the year. "The council is under no pressure to do anything."
Civic Amenities Group member Graeme Horsley said the museum should be sited adjacent to the art gallery.
Tauranga's biggest problem was that the spread of commercial centres had put the heart of the city under immense pressure, and the opportunities created by the civic buildings investigation was now on the group's table.