Tourism operators in Mount Maunganui are disappointed but not surprised Tauranga City Council has canned plans for a $5 million visitor information centre in Coronation Park.
Operators say a central tourism hub for the Mount will still be needed one day, but one business owner fears it will end up "on the back burner" for years.
The cash-strapped council cancelled the project, known as Te Tomokanga (The Archway), in a Projects, Services and Operations Committee meeting on Tuesday, after freezing spending in July.
Updated cost estimates suggested a $1.5m to $4m shortfall for the preferred "iconic" version of the design, featuring a statement roof and previously costed at $5m.
The Port of Tauranga at Mount Maunganui was a popular cruise ship destination pre-Covid, with 114 ship visits and a visitor spend of $91 million in the 2018-19 season.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said she was disappointed the "crucial tourism infrastructure won't be delivered for the region's already hard-hit tourism industry".
Tristan Webb, co-owner of Skydive Tauranga, said he was disappointed but not surprised as long-time talk of a central place to sell and promote Mount tourism products and services had not produced much.
He said a hub like Rotorua or Taupo's was still needed, and it would be good to have something "in the pipeline" for when international tourism returned.
"But I fear it will stay on the back burner now for some time."
Waimarino Adventure Park owner Blair Anderson said the cancelled project was "typical Tauranga City Council".
He said the Mount needed an i-Site but not a $5m one, and it would be better to let private industry build and run it.
Nigel and Katheryn Busbridge, owners of V8 Trike Tours NZ, said the council probably made the right call.
Kathryn said she could understand why the council did not want to invest in the building right now.
"I'm sure it will happen one day. Until tourism resumes at the Mount I can understand why it has been sidelined for the moment."
She was happy with the plan for a temporary i-Site in Te Papa O Nga Manu Porotakataka this summer, and that the business had been allocated a dedicated park at last.
Nigel said the council needed to look carefully at its spending.
"Would it have been a wise thing to spend money on in the current climate?"
A solution would be needed eventually, however, because an i-Site in a shipping container at the port gate was not good enough for a "showcase" cruise destination, in his view.
Lesley Smith, owner of Mount train tourist attraction Pēpi Toot, said there used to be an information centre in Coronation Park and she thought it was a good idea to bring it back.
"But I'm not surprised they have canned it - money and timing are the thing."
She reckoned fitting out an existing shop space as an i-Site was the way to go.
Danielle Cubis, owner of Spongedrop Cakery - in the old Coronation Park information centre - said she and her customers were happy her business did not have to move.
The building would have been demolished for the new one.
She said the business would have moved if needed, but felt like a "solid and loved" part of the community after six years.
Grant Aislabe, chairman of the Mount Business Association, said he was happy for his rates bill but disappointed for the Mount community.
"An i-Site would be an integral part of the community."
He could understand the decision given the council's economic situation.
Council staff have flagged a $2 billion hole in capital infrastructure funding over the next decade.
Paora Stanley, chief executive of Ngāi Te Rangi - an iwi that previously expressed interest in investing in the project - said he was moving on but not closing any doors.
"It was never going to go anywhere. It became a political football."
The council has been planning the information centre since 2015 and told the Bay of Plenty Times $55,123 had been spent to date.
Early cost estimates for the project ranged from $1m to $1.3m but these turned to $4m-$5m after initial concept designs were done.
After some back-and-forth, the council approved funding for the $4m "functional" version in 2017, upgrading to the $5m "iconic" version if external funding could be found.
Applications were rejected by three funds but on the second try, the Provincial Growth Fund signed off $980,000. It was the council's only successful application to the fund.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment notified the council last month it was terminating the grant as the council had not met project deliverables.
The council agreed to refund the $98,000 portion of the grant that had been paid.
The council has agreed to consider future visitor infrastructure in Mount North.
Gareth Wallis, general manager of community services said tourism investment would consider community needs and local housing and transport challenges.
A container i-Site near the Port of Tauranga will be moved to Te Papa O Nga Manu Porotakataka on Maunganui Rd for summer.
In Tuesday's meeting, Councillor John Robson said the decision was "an acceptance of the reality of where we are" and would allow for a more strategic look at the situation.
Councillor Heidi Hughes said it was no time to be spending money on an information centre and Larry Baldock said time may help find a solution, or show it would have been cheaper to build it earlier.