The "first step" towards one of the Tauranga CBD's biggest transformations has finally been made, greenlighting development from eager investors said to have been "holding back".
From January, Tauranga City Council will move its customer service centre and library from its existing Willow St site into Goddards Shopping Centre.
Council chief executive Marty Grenfell and commission chairwoman Anne Tolley have announced the council has signed the lease to take over the arcade space between Devonport Rd and Grey St, which has 17 vacant spaces.
Those involved say the move will help rejuvenate the CBD and help create a more community-focused and interactive civic space that better showcases the city's heritage and taonga.
In 2014, toxic black mould was discovered in the council's Willow St administration building, leading to the first floor being sealed off and the displacement of two-thirds of the 520 staff.
Plans for a new civic building have since been discussed at length by the council.
Part of the building was demolished in 2017 and the remainder is due to be demolished from April next year.
Staff still based in the Willow St site — not including the library and customer services teams — will move to 306 Cameron Rd, where most of the council workforce is based. Work to add new meeting rooms is expected to start in October.
Staff were expected to eventually move into a yet-to-be-built office building at 82-98 Devonport Rd.
The council was in the process of selling that site to Willis Bond and Co, which would develop an office building that the council planned to lease as its main staff premises until the new Willow St civic precinct was built.
The agreement was expected to be finalised at the end of next month.
Our Place - the container village established on the site of the first demolition - was set to be decommissioned in February.
Tolley said the potential for the civic precinct "to contribute to a thriving and vibrant city centre has been recognised for some years and was reinforced through the recent Long-term Plan process".
"It's great to see steps being taken to turn this vision into a reality."
Tolley said the commission received a "clear message" from the community "to get on with it".
She said the eventual civic space that will replace the Willow St site will become the "jewel in the crown that's Tauranga CBD".
"I think people will start to see the CBD starting to become a place to be," Tolley said.
"Hopefully we see some investment from building owners to take advantage of the large number of people who are going to be there on a daily basis."
Tolley said a lot of the city's investors had been "holding back, waiting".
Nigel Tutt, chief executive of economic development agency Priority One, said Tolley was "bang on" in saying businesses and investors had been waiting on the council's decision "so they could then make decisions".
More than $1 billon was expected to flow into CBD developments over the next five to eight years, he said.
Grenfell told the Bay of Plenty Times the relocation was an opportunity to stay central "and bring that hive of activity into town and bring to life a vacant premise".
"We think it will be a catalyst for further investment and development in the area," he said.
"It really acknowledges we are committed now, formally, in a lease."
Public council meetings will be held at Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Elizabeth St office during this time. Committee meetings, also open to the public, will be held at the council's Cameron Rd office.
Grenfell said the move was the "first step" in a refreshed masterplan that would guide the development of the civic precinct over the next decade.
The original plan was done four to five years ago when "there was this flip-flopping over the civic administration building that meant the refresh needed to happen", he said.
In his view, the original plan failed to take into account the significant cultural history of the site "to the extent that I believe it needs to be", he said.
The new civic space and "community hub" at Goddards' arcade is expected to include yet-to-be selected taonga sitting in storage due to the city's lack of a museum.
It is also expected to host a café and activity space at its Devonport Rd entrance, with an adjoining space that could be used for community presentations, meetings or activities such as a pottery and wine night.
Customer services manager Margaret Batchelar said the new space, to be located near the Devonport Rd entrance, was about half of the size of the Willow St reception area. However, this was a "good thing" as it allowed staff to be more interactive and accessible to people.
Libraries manager Joanna Thomas said this was an exciting step "as council and the community reimagine together how civic services and experiences are provided in Tauranga".
In a statement, chief executive and director of PMG Funds Scott McKenzie, representing the owners of the Goddards Centre, said it was an excellent outcome for the council, the CBD and the wider community.
"On the back of exciting developments under way across the city centre, such as the $200 million Farmers retail, hospitality and apartment complex, including the associated streetscaping of Elizabeth St and the redevelopment of 2 Devonport Rd, this is another project that we are confident will support the revitalisation of our city centre."
Mainstreet Tauranga chairman Brian Berry welcomed the announcement and the confidence he expected it would give the private sector.
"These steps further support Tauranga City's progression to a regional city of national significance that can cater for the needs of a growing and diverse population. We expect it will be a catalyst for the private sector to invest further in the city centre, with mixed-use developments that encourage boutique retail, a greater hospitality offering and significantly more inner-city living."
Early design concepts and renderings for the Goddards centre - yet to be confirmed - have entrances at Devonport Rd and Grey St, linked by a promenade.
Existing tenants – Step Inn Shoes, Hammon Diamond Jeweller and the Caci Clinic - were not expected to be affected.
The customer service centre was expected to open early next year, followed by the library in March.
Phase one of the civic precinct redevelopment on Willow St, including the new central library and community hub, was expected to be completed and open to the public in July 2025.
Covid alert levels 3 and 4 were not, at this stage, expected to impact the timeline of the relocation.