Whangarei - the Venice of the South Pacific?
Or what about Whangarei 24/7: Northland's city centre?
A bold concept plan for revitalising the city's central business district has been unveiled by Whangarei District Council.
The plan includes a few options for possible development of the Town Basin area, including a canal covering a city-block-sized area with boat access to the harbour, luxury hotel, museum, conference centre or large park.
It could also lead to such things as a public ferry service to Parua Bay and Ruakaka, a "green necklace" of open space around the city and a more pedestrian-friendly town centre.
The plan was drawn up by Garth Faulkner of Isthmus Group, who worked on the council's last long-term development strategy in 1995/96 - the 20/20 Vision.
Mr Faulkner, and urban-design expert, said Whangarei had been poorly planned and developed over the years and the concept plan was a first step toward an integrated development of the entire CBD.
He said canals around the Town Basin area could see Whangarei become "the Venice of the South Pacific" but, whatever was decided, the area needed "iconic" attractions to bring people to the city.
Whangarei economic development officer Jude Thompson revealed she planned to bring a major new event to the city in the next 12 to 18 months.
Mayor Pamela Peters said the plan was a way of bringing vitality to the CBD and public feedback was needed. Mrs Peters gave an assurance that public views would be listened to.
No work has been done on how much any of the plan's options would cost, but any of them could be expected to cost many millions of dollars.
The plan looks at three potential ways to fund projects: council developing them alone; joint ventures with developers using the large tracts of council-owned land in the CBD; or providing guidelines and incentives for developers to carry out the projects.
Mrs Peters said the council had been approached by local and out-of-town companies keen to develop parts of the CBD and the plan would give them an idea of the direction the council wanted the area to take.
One developer is buying up most of the blocks bordered by Dent, Walton, Robert and James Sts, while another wants to put a luxury hotel on land freed up by the recent bridge extension and Town Basin roading realignment.
The concept outlines a precinct-based approach to integrating and developing the CBD. For example, the area including Lower Dent St and the Hihiaua Reserve could become a marine-village precinct where related activities and businesses could be based.
Ms Peters said that, over the last 10 years, a raft of studies, reports and public forums had provided the council a clear idea of the community's wishes for the CBD and Town Basin areas, and the plan pulled those ideas together.
The five-finger roundabout and Town Basin roading work were key parts of the 20/20 Vision and with their completion it was time to review the Vision and get it back in front of the public.
Mr Faulkner said key steps for the plan would be: getting unnecessary through traffic away from the CBD by bringing forward plans for a second harbour crossing, developing the Town Basin sites and the Hihiaua area.
He said Whangarei was suffering from increased traffic congestion, a sense of falling behind other regions, youth problems and a lack of activities.
A possible "brand" for the city could be Whangarei 24/7, Mr Faulkner said.
Ms Peters said much of the work identified in the plan had already been budgeted for in the council's annual and long-term community plans.
The Whangarei District Council wants public feedback on the proposals.
The Northern Advocate will bring you more details of the plan in coming days.
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