A bold new vision for Tauranga's booming cruise ship industry has been unveiled by city architect Neville Saunders.
''It will tread on a few toes but it could start conversations,'' he said of his proposal to build a cruise ship terminal at Mount Maunganui.
The next cruise season has 113 ships booked, 30 more than the season just ended, Saunders wanted to improve the ''abysmal'' wharf-side experience for passengers.
''Present-day passengers disembark down a rickety open gangway on to a drab and dirty tarmac, walk along the wharf, through a tent and then through a gauntlet of pipe barriers before emerging at a fish and chip shop. Too bad if it's raining.''
Saunders had a keen interest in cruise ships and enjoyed watching them depart Tauranga Harbour.
So when he saw the port gateway for cruise passengers, he was spurred to design something on an entirely different scale and level of ambition to the proposed $5 million Visitor Information Centre in Salisbury Ave.
Saunders said in his view the current proposal did not address the port and cruise ship issue at all. It left passengers somehow having to find their way out of the port and down Salisbury Ave to a new information centre.
''We need to look at the whole of the Mount and plan things in a wider context.''
Opening up the area at the back of the terminal would increase Coronation Park by about a third. ''You get rid of the fences and open it up.''
Saunders said the terminal and link roads would be at the expense of some port buildings, including the port company offices, which would go into the terminal, and new $11 million kiwifruit coolstore. The former police station would also be demolished.
He conceded his ideas could run into opposition from the port company. ''It would cut down on storage but if they were clever they could put it somewhere else."
Saunders believed the port stood to gain a lot from the development because of the growing value of the cruise ship industry.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said that although the proposal looked interesting, there would be many logistical challenges.
''For instance, Port of Tauranga has recently completed a new $11m coolstore at the north end of the Mount Maunganui wharves to cater to the fast-growing kiwifruit export industry. Moving that facility is not in our immediate plans.''
He also questioned what the proposal was seeking to fix, saying that as a cruise port destination, Tauranga consistently received the highest satisfaction ratings in passenger surveys.
Cairns said cruise ships were an important contributor to the region's economy worth more than $40m a year.
''The kiwifruit industry is estimated to contribute $2.6 billion.''
Saunders said that for the project to succeed, the terminal needed to be commercially viable all year around. His plan called for a four-level building about the size of four football fields, with each floor covering 6000sq m.
He had not calculated developments costs, but said it would be at a scale that attracted all visitors to Tauranga. Port security would be designed in the same way as international airport terminals, which kept passengers out of sensitive areas.
The terminal would be built back from the edge of the wharf so there was enough room to work cargo vessels. An all-weather snorkel walkway would link cruise ships to the terminal.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless described the plan as ambitious and said it would depend on the numbers stacking up and not being at the expense of exports.
''If it could be done and the port could continue its operations as normal, that would be great.''
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said that the increase in cruise ships numbers to 113 ships next season meant welcoming passengers through two converted shipping containers on a working port was not acceptable.
Dunne said Tourism BOP would happily facilitate this on the city's behalf and she agreed with Saunders it needed to be a collaborative effort involving multiple stakeholders.
''I'm sure Tauranga City Council would welcome other vested stakeholders joining the conversation and helping to create the best long-term solution."
Mount Mainstreet chairwoman Jane Debenham said the vision sounded fabulous and looked to the future. ''Somebody is thinking ahead and putting ideas out there.''
Debenham said she would welcome a state-of-the-art facility for cruise ship passengers and all tourists to the Mount.
Ian New, of Kiwiana Gifts and Souvenirs at the Mount, said there was room for improvement and the terminal would be really good, so long as the shopping mall did not drag business away from the shopping centre.
''But it is all progress and with cruise ships getting bigger and better, and more ships, it needs something better than what is there now. The visitor information centre is a joke.''
First Floor: Visitor lounge with concourse, shopping mall and restaurants.
Other levels: Offices for related businesses such as i-Site information, tour companies, port authority, customs, and shipping agents.
Top Floor: A hotel with panoramic views from rooms.