Tauranga City Council is taking another whack at making a plan for the development of a block of public land in the CBD.
And Tauranga's mayor has pitched a fresh idea into the mix: Turn it into a big green space.
The area includes the old TV3 site at 21-41 Durham St, a city block bound by Willow, Durham, Hamilton and Wharf Sts, and a connection to the waterfront through Masonic Park and its adjacent carpark.
It is home to Baycourt, a council office, the library, Our Place, the Citizen's Advice Bureau and parking. Historically, it was the site of the Tauranga town hall and is part of the 526ha Te Papa block for which the Anglican Church has apologised to iwi for handing over to the Crown more than 150 years ago.
The council has been working on plans to develop the precinct for six years since toxic mould was discovered in the council's Willow St administration building and the decision was taken to demolish it and build anew.
A museum, cultural centre, new library, city square, performing arts centre, hotel, bus interchange and, of course, a new council civic administration building have all featured in plans for the area, with developers also expressing interest in the land, including for a nine-storey hotel.
Business cases have been approved then shelved, multimillion-dollar funding signed off then deferred, a development partnership signed and plans consulted on, but ultimately, there is no final plan.
In a report seen by the council behind closed doors in March, consultant Max Pedersen said: "The reality is that the master planning of the Willow St precinct is little further ahead than it was in 2015/16."
In a meeting yesterday, however, the council agreed to press on with plans to work up a new "civic precinct master plan" as a blueprint for developing the area over time.
It voted to disestablish a "technical advisory group" set up in 2017 to give design advice to the council but which, as Councillor Larry Baldock said, wound up with "very little to do because we couldn't agree on what we were going to do".
Instead, the council would set up a "project advisory board" and a "reference group" for the new master planning project.
The board would include council and hapū representatives plus people with expertise in urban planning, costing and development. The reference group would be for community and interest groups, such as Priority One and the Chamber of Commerce.
Council manager of strategic investment and commercial facilitation Brigid McDonald said the master plan was a "visionary approach to the future" intended to provide direction for future councils. It could draw on previous work.
"It doesn't mean all elements of the master plan will get delivered tomorrow."
Mayor Tenby Powell said the council needed to get past the stage of talking about doing something, and actually do it.
He said there were many challenges to building on this site and the council had other options, with developers wanting it to tenant their buildings.
"Why are we hung up on this site? Why can't we consider turning it into a beautiful green space?"
He said he was imagining a green belt linking to Masonic Park that would be "somewhere
people can just come and be in the middle of the city".
"I'm brainstorming as I talk."
Councillor Jako Abrie said he liked the idea of a green space with some sites earmarked for buildings co-designed with hapū Ngāi Tamarawaho.
But Councillor Kelvin Clout said he was "bemused" by the conversation.
"The last two speakers have given us an indication as to why this has taken us six years to get nowhere. Out of the blue, we have the prospect of it being turned into a massive green space... This is indicative of the complexity of the whole issue."
Baldock, former chairman of the City Transformation Committee that led the Heart of the City programme - both are no longer - in the last council term, said it was good the council was acknowledging it needed help from "people who have actually built things".
"It has been a long process and it's delivered very little."
The work was supported by the community, he said.
But a museum - hotly debated in 2018 but ultimately shelved - was the "elephant in the plan" and would need to be resolved.
Councillor Steve Morris said the council should focus on building a new administration building and, if it could get that right and gain the community's trust, it could look at other developments.
Councillor Heidi Hughes, agreed, saying taking a plan for a whole lot of buildings to the community - even with a 20-year timeframe - would "send the heebee jeebees up them".
Morris also referenced a report that found council staff were spending $1m worth of work time traipsing between the three buildings the workforce was split between - Willow St, Spring St and Cameron Rd.
The council is considering its options for consolidating staff into one building in the medium term.
It held a confidential meeting yesterday to discuss development options for the civic administration building and the next steps, citing commercial negotiations and legal privilege as its reasons for keeping the public out.
One location on the table earlier this year was 82-90 Devonport Rd, which the council said it was in the process of selling to Willis Bond and Co - its development partner for the civic precinct - for an as-yet-undisclosed sum.
The Bay of Plenty Times understands the sale is not yet complete.
Willis Bond planned to build a six-storey office building with ground-floor retail. The council was considering leasing office space.