What will Whangarei look like in 10 years?
The man charged with helping the inner-city thrive reckons Whangarei District Council has four major projects that will change the face of the city forever - separate from but complementary to the potential $14 million Hundertwasser Art Centre.
Cashed up retirees populating a CBD that celebrates Maori culture, encircles its "magnificent" harbour with green space and features a state of the art theatre and civic centre - this is the crux of the vision, says councillor Phil Halse, chairman of council's 20/20 Inner City Revitalisation Committee.
In a document titled the "20/20 Momentum" plan - Whangarei District Council lists 28 projects set to shape the city over the next decade. Now the council is asking the public for feedback on whether they have got it right.
Council spend up this is not, Mr Halse claims. It is about leveraging private money and capitalising on pre-existing assets. Not all projects were ratepayer funded.
"We're going into a phase of consolidation ... we need to be adding value to what we already have," said Mr Halse.
The following projects were Mr Halse's top picks to be game changers for the future of Whangarei.
The full plan can be viewed at www.wdc.govt.nz or at Forum North.
1. More people
Specifically, more inner-city residents, starting with seaside apartment living at Reyburn House Lane.
The council was facilitating this via its Hihiaua Precinct Plan, which would allow mixed use development and open the door to private investment.
Mr Halse was "more than confident" investors would come to the party.
"At the moment we're having to turn people away because there's no structure to do it ... we've done a lot of planning to make sure it can start to happen."
Mr Halse acknowledged that eyebrows may be raised at the inclusion of more large format retail near Okara in the Momentum plan - apparently flying in the face of the CBD-centric focus.
"The fact is that in today's world you have to accommodate bulk retail," he said.
2. Green space
The Parking to Park project would see the car park between the Town Basin and Canopy Bridge converted to a vibrant green space catering for events and acting as a "stepping stone" between the Town Basin and CBD.
Any shortfall in parking as a result could be dealt with in future by way of a park and ride facility at Pohe Island.
Mr Halse said the success of the Hatea Loop, the Town Basin and "magnificent inner-city harbour" were assets most cities would love to have and must be highlighted.
3. Art & politics to mix
There are plans to combine council chambers with a new theatre, expo and conference centre.
In its Long Term Plan, council had allocated $10 million to bring council staff into one building and another $10 million towards a new theatre, expo and conference centre, with the latter expected to be some form of public/private partnership.
Mr Halse said these projects would likely be combined, with a major renovation of Forum North or a site in the lower CBD near John and Walton streets the two contenders.
Council may face criticism as the public perceived it was building a facility "for itself". Mr Halse said up to $1 million a year would be saved bringing staff under one roof.
4. Cultural hinge
The long-awaited Hihiaua Cultural Centre is something "that's been promised since 1989," Mr Halse said. "We owe it to iwi to make sure it happens."
The council had given the project - with a projected budget of $20 million - a $500,000 start-up grant. The remainder would come from fundraising and grant money.
The planned building, reminiscent of a beached waka, would be a vessel for local history, cultural tourism and education.
Absent from Mr Halse's "game changers" was the Hundertwasser Art Centre. WDC would contribute $2.9 million to the transformation of the Town Basin's Old Harbour Board building, contingent on Prosper Northland raising the remainder of the $14 million required for the centre to proceed.