A prime block of inner city land currently partly used as a carpark has been bought by Whangārei District Council for $5 million.

The council says the two significant land purchases will contribute to a more vibrant city centre and waterfront, and put ratepayers in a good position to manage a large increase in visitors when the Hundertwasser Art Centre is completed.

The blocks of land are between John and James Sts, across the road from the site of the new Town Basin park and the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery development, and the carpark at 45 James St, which will ensure the council has control of more parking spaces in the area.

Previous owners of the 62-72 James St and 57–71 John St block, Neil Properties Limited, gave the council first right of refusal on the properties, which would otherwise have been sold on the open market.

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The council approved the $5m purchase of 62-72 James St and 57–71 John St at its February meeting and settlement was completed at the end of March. Rateable value for the sites was a combined $4.96m.

"These properties, about half a hectare in total (4700m2), have long been considered strategic, and critical to the development of the central city and Town Basin area," Council chief executive Rob Forlong said.

"Owning them means we can ensure development there fits the vision for the area.''
He said the new Town Basin park across Dent St is due to be completed at the same time as the Hundertwasser Arts Centre in 2022.

"These developments will attract large numbers of new domestic and international tourists. Cruise ships should start arriving at Port Nikau around that time, and we expect them to bring tourist buses into the city. Owning this land puts us in a good position to cater for these changes, growth and development," Forlong said.

He said the site is one of several identified in the Whangārei City Centre Plan (WCCP) and draft City Core Precinct Plan as strategic sites that, developed correctly, would provide a catalyst for change.

"Our Property Policy and Business Plan for Commercial Property also endorse public ownership of large, strategically located sites to promote urban regeneration develop the economy," he said.

Forlong said the James St/John St site would continue to be used for car parking as development opportunities were explored.

The council was keeping an open mind on what developments would go on the land, but they would have to fit within the WCCP.

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The block had been touted as a potential site for a planned $37m civic centre, but the centre, which will bring all of the Whangārei District Council's staff and councillors under one roof, will be built on the combined Forum North/RSA precinct site.