An eyesore and a magnet for vandals on Kaitāia's main street for more than a decade will be transformed into a town square, recreation space and affordable housing.
The former Pak'nSave supermarket on Commerce St has been empty since parent company Foodstuffs built a new store on the north side of town in 2011.
The car park continues to be well-used but the building itself is regularly graffitied, broken into and damaged.
A number of attempts to buy the site or put it to other use have failed over the years but council-owned company Far North Holdings (FNH) has now reached a deal with Foodstuffs.
A section of the car park closest to Commerce St will be transformed into a town square complete with seating, plantings and large-scale artworks.
The town square development, part of the wider Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Plan, has already been designed. Funding from the Provincial Growth Fund was approved in early 2021 but a green light from Foodstuffs was needed before it could go ahead.
This week's announcement was short on detail about the affordable housing project, which is still in a ''conceptual phase''.
FNH chief executive Andy Nock said the housing would integrate with the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Plan and fit the community's vision for the prominent, main street site.
FNH would work closely with stakeholders on the scheme, which encompassed housing, open space and recreational areas.
''The intention is to bring the former supermarket building and the land it sits on back to being part of the town centre, creating liveable spaces with quality affordable housing, building safe and vibrant outdoor spaces funded by the Provincial Growth Fund secured master plan grant.
''Together we are looking to work with our community and make a difference,'' Nock said.
Emma Wooster, the head of co-operative public relations for Foodstuffs NZ, said the company's connection to the Far North town went back to 1985 when it opened the country's first Pak'nSave in Kaitāia.
"Our intention has always been for the former supermarket site to be made available for the benefit of the people of Kaitāia so we're excited to have entered into an agreement with Far North Holdings that sees the land at the heart of the local community and at the centre of a significant urban development," she said.
Foodstuffs North Island had also committed $300,000 to support the provision of social housing as part of the project.
Nock said the plan had its genesis in Far North District councillor Felicity Foy's 2019 Massey University research on revitalisation of the Kaitāia town centre.
That in turn led to the creation of Te Hiku o Te Ika Master plan, and work alongside Kaitāia landscape architect Delwyn Shepherd to secure central government funding.
Foy said she had been supporting FNH in its negotiations with Foodstuffs.
''I'm so excited to see this proceed to physical progress and a much-needed revitalisation for our town centre,'' she said.
Not everyone is thrilled about the project, however.
The Kaitāia Business Association is closely involved in, and fully supports, the town square development but has reservations about the housing project.
Chairwoman Andrea Panther said it was ''amazing'' to finally see progress on the town square.
''But my concern is that this big space, which is basically the centre of our CBD, is not the right place for housing ... It will be very visible and very central, so what goes there is incredibly critical for the future of our town.''
Panther said the association was waiting to see the final plans before making more specific comment.
Further information was not available to the Advocate about the conditional agreement between FNH and Foodstuffs North Island.
It was not known, for example, if the land will be sold or leased, whether the supermarket building will be demolished, or how many homes are planned and in what timeframe.
FNH is also involved in an affordable housing project in Kaikohe, where the council-owned company is working with Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi to build 60 homes on the former RSA site on upper Broadway.
If all goes to plan construction will start this year and residents will start moving in by 2023.
The Kaikohe development aims to ease the town's housing shortage and reduce illness caused by substandard dwellings.
Kaitāia was named the nation's most beautiful small town in the 2022 Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards in recognition of the work done so far to improve the town centre.
Youth centre failure caused supermarket site delays - Foodstuffs
Failed plans for a youth centre are behind delays in putting Kaitāia's old Pak'nSave supermarket to alternative use, the company says.
Foodstuffs North Island said it sold a 50-year lease for the former supermarket site on Commerce St in 2018 for a nominal $2. The site was to have been turned into a youth centre.
''The intention was it would become a hub for the young people of Kaitāia to meet, share their ideas for their future and put them into action. When it became evident the tenant was unable to fulfil their plans, Foodstuffs North Island worked to regain control of the site and cancel the lease agreement,'' the company said.
Since then Foodstuffs had been trying to find a viable way the site could be returned to the community.
The Advocate first contacted Foodstuffs on March 10 to find out why the site remained unused.
Foodstuffs did not respond until April 6, despite repeated calls and emails.
The Commerce St Pak'nSave closed in 2011 when the company opened a new store north of town.
Since then the old supermarket has become increasingly derelict. It is a popular target for taggers and people have camped in the covered trolley bay.
A number of Kaitāia business owners said they had tried to buy the building over the years and bring it back to life.
Ian Walker, owner of Folders department store, said he had been involved in three separate offers for the old supermarket.
One of those proposals would have seen the building turned into a mall shared by a bank, Folders and a number of other tenants.
''It would have been a gem for Kaitāia,'' he said.
On March 8 the Commerce Commission released a report into New Zealand's supermarket sector, sparked by concerns about lack of competition and high food prices.
The report found supermarket prices and profitability appeared to be high by international standards, and that lack of competition worked against suppliers who had to agree to terms set by the supermarkets or risk having their products removed from the shelves.
The report also found supermarket companies were making it difficult for new businesses to enter the market with restrictive covenants or ''land banking'', in which they held on to land they weren't using to stop competitors buying suitable sites.
Foodstuffs said land banking was not behind the delays in redeveloping the Kaitāia site.