Tauranga City Council is forging ahead with plans to spend $303.4 million to rebuild a civic space in the CBD, despite calls from ratepayer representatives for the project to be abandoned.
The decision, made in a council meeting yesterday, also proposed spending an extra $21m on environmental enhancements as part of the Te Manawataki o te Papa project.
City commissioners approved the $303.4m plans that will construct a library and community hub, civic whare and a museum, with additional private sector investment expected for a hotel and convention/performing arts centre.
During weeks of consultation, people were given this option, a $126m no-frills version consisting of just the library, community hub and civic whare, or a status quo - do nothing - option to choose from.
The city's commission has long trumpeted the $303.4m option as its preference despite calls from critics labelling concept museum plans a "white elephant" that would unnecessarily soak up money with designs that were described as "pretty ugly".
Of this, ratepayers are expected to fund about $152m, including $83m already committed for the library. The remaining money is expected to come from grant funding, the sale of non-core council assets and Three Waters Reform better-off funding.
The effect of all this on the average residential ratepayer in 2030 is estimated to be $265 per year, and $705 per year for the average commercial ratepayer.
Of the 628 people who responded during the consultation, 450 (72 per cent) supported the preferred option compared to 128 (20 per cent) who supported the second option. Fifty people (8 per cent) chose "no option".
Another 549 submitters provided feedback without choosing an option. This included 419 in support of a Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance submission rejecting both options.
After yesterday's meeting, Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance spokesman Michael O'Neill was a "little surprised" the commissioners had decided to go ahead with the plans now given the current economic climate.
The group believed it was not the right time to proceed with the project as many residents were financially struggling with the rising cost of living, he said.
O'Neill also said a business case was also needed for the project given the amount of money predicted to be spent.
"The TRA are not against the concept, but at this time when so many people are struggling, we think it's sending the wrong messages to the community."
"What we haven't seen is a business case for the whole thing. That's not good business for a large organisation."
Citizens Advocacy Tauranga chairman Rob Paterson said, in his view, the civic precinct sounded like a "stupid development" that would create huge costs for ratepayers.
Paterson was concerned at potentially high operational costs and that the library, civic whare and museum would not be used. The precinct fell into the "nice-to-have" basket and was not the essential infrastructure the city needed, he said.
"The huge cost will lack public use."
But CBD businesses were excited about the decision.
Downtown Tauranga chairman Brian Berry supported the commission's tactic of doing it once and doing it right.
"Tauranga has often had the problem of things being half done. I'd like to see it done properly. We would like to have input into that to ensure the end product is appropriate for the city."
Berry said the city deserved a proper civic centre and hoped that once built, it would help tell Tauranga's history.
"At some stage cities need to invest in their heritage. This is part of that process."
Revitalisation of the city centre was among key themes from consultation feedback, as was a need to get on and dot it, a lack of trust in the council to delivery and concerns of funding security.
In the meeting, commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the submissions, including that of a 12-year-old demanding a place where he could learn local history, showed "we are actually making a difference".
Willis Bond director Wayne Silver warned the council of an escalation cost of $32m, driven by inflation and building costs, which would be absorbed by the $303.4m bill.
Silver also said parts of the project would need a 12-month settlement period because of the type of land.
"There is a risk of liquefaction in some areas; the edge of the museum, the civic whare and the exhibition centre have quite unstable land. That's not surprising and will likely require piling."
Silver recommended building the library first, as originally planned, and building the museum second instead of the exhibition space because of the land issues.
What the buildings will look like is yet to be finalised. The council is expected to decide on the buildings' facades in time to allow for a resource consent application from as early as October.
Silver listed several "enhancements" costing an additional $21m, including solar panelling, greywater recycling and using timber to help offset carbon emissions and create 6 Green Star buildings.
Tolley said the enhancements were aspirational and not what the council had consulted on.
"We are $21m short somewhere. We need to have some hard conversations about how we achieve that if we want these enhancements."
Tolley then moved to go ahead with the $303.4m option, which was seconded by commissioner Bill Wasley.
"I think we can feel the weight of history on our shoulders, we have the opportunity to bring all that to life. Particularly for Stephen [Selwood] and I coming into the city when we were first appointed and seeing what had actually happened to the city was pretty soul-destroying," Tolley said.
"Here we have an opportunity to make a decision that will give life to all that was hoped for and dreamed of by thousands of people who have made and call Tauranga home."
Wasley said the CBD was more than just retail and its future included a justice precinct and university campus. The project would also help to unlock the city's waterfront, which Tauranga had for too long turned its back on, he said.
Te Manawataki o te Papa aligned with other strategic documents such as the Urban Form and Transport Initiative, the Te Papa Spatial Plan, City Centre Spatial Framework, City Centre Strategy and the Marine Facilities Strategy.
Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston said the message of "do it once, do it properly" came through clearly in consultation and Tauranga had a history of "do it once, do it again, and do it again".
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make some building decisions to enhance and move this city forward."
Commissioner Stephen Selwood said the project was a significant opportunity to provide economic, social, environmental and cultural dividends. The challenge now was to consider investing extra money for enhancements that could help prolong the buildings' lifespan.
He also spoke of finding alternative funding streams for the $21m enhancements so ratepayers wouldn't foot the bill.
"If we make the right sustainable decisions now, we can save on that [extra future spending]."
Selwood said he believed the option was "going to make a difference".
"It's the right thing to do for this city."
- Additional reporting Emma Houpt