A former Tauranga City Council staffer has gone in to bat for a reserve he once managed.
Former council reserves manager Geoff Canham is among those objecting to the council's proposal to revoke the reserve status of 7000sq m of Marine Park at Sulphur Point.
The council proposed to lease the section to the University of Waikato and allow it to build an up to three-storey marine research and education centre with parking and a boat ramp. It would be led by Professor Chris Battershill.
The plan had strong support from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and economic development agency Priority One.
The nearly 500 written submissions from a public consultation last year were split 58 per cent against and 42 per cent for the proposal.
The council heard from some submitters in person this afternoon.
Supporters emphasised the opportunities the centre could offer Tauranga, while opponents railed against the loss of open green space in an area set aside for recreation.
Canham, now a parks and recreation consultant, said the proposal amounted to the council "giving away a park for the best office accommodation site in Tauranga".
The council had a long history of protecting Marine Park, he said, and had spurned many public and private interests coveting the park in part or whole.
"The park needs more protection, not less."
He said better sites existed and the council should help the university find one.
Bay of Plenty regional councillor John Cronin said the facility had "nowhere else to go in this city".
He said the city council dismissed the only other workable option, at the northern end of Sulphur Point.
The new centre would take up only 6.18 per cent of the 112,000sq m park - a small price to pay for the wide-ranging benefits.
"Tauranga cannot, and must not, let this now the only other remaining suitable site ... slip by."
Dr Douglas Sutton, a former deputy vice-chancellor of Waikato University turned Northland farmer, said he had studied what made some education and research centres successful and prosperous while others failed in cities around the world.
He said location was key and building the centre at Sulphur Point - in the central city and close to marine habitats - would give it "powerful capabilities".
Among the benefits was a research edge in preparing for the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
Fisherman and Tauranga resident of 25 years Mark Bell said he supported a marine research centre but not at this location.
He said the space was needed for trailer boat overflow parking on busy days, and should stay as a green area for the people of Tauranga the rest of the time.
Resident Jim Beard said in his view the consultation process was biased in support of the university's plans and had minimised the negatives.
"Let them go out and buy land like any other business would be required to do."
The council will deliberate on July 3.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage will make the final call on any revocation.