Two Hamilton property owners told of a council plan to buy and bowl buildings to extend an urban park on Victoria St set up a company to purchase the same buildings before the proposal was made public.
Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs has defended only telling developers Matt Stark and Leonard Gardner about the council's confidential plans for the area up to six weeks before it was made public in the council's draft 10-year-plan in early December.
The $30 million plus proposed plan included buying and bowling a number of properties between the new Victoria on the River (VOTR) and Embassy Park on Victoria St to make a larger park.
Briggs confirmed to the Herald in December 2017 he had approached the businessmen after he was asked by council in an October 18 meeting to find out the willingness of property owners to sell. He did not approach any of the other affected property owners.
Briggs denied giving developers Stark and Gardner preferential treatment over larger property owners in the proposed strip and and said they were chosen because Stark owned the building which blocked the view to the river from Collingwood St and because Gardner had previously offered to sell his to council.
Stark's companies own 260 and 266 Victoria St near Victoria on the River and Gardner's company Foster owns three, 220-228 Victoria St, near Embassy Park.
But while the plans were still not public Stark and Gardner registered a company with the same name - VOTR 2 WRT Limited on - November 20, 2017, according to Companies Office records.
Gardner confirmed the company was a joint venture between him and Stark to acquire buildings between Victoria on the River and the proposed new theatre site - the same buildings council is proposing to buy.
Gardner, who is also chair of philanthropic trust Momentum Waikato tasked with creating a new regional theatre on Victoria St next to Embassy Park, said he was open to any plans that would support the proposed theatre.
Gardner said they had already approached property owners and if an opportunity came up they would be ready to buy it.
"The best-case scenario is that over time we've got some sort of influence over all the properties there - common ownership - and actually we can do something coherent which helps link Hamilton's CBD to the river."
While they had no definite plans for the area, he said it would be something that worked commercially as well as supporting the vision of connecting the CBD with the river.
When asked whether they would be competing against council, Gardner was doubtful the council would get the funding required to buy all the buildings.
Stark said the company had not done anything yet and would be prepared to work with the city council if it wanted to, otherwise they would go alone.
"We've had a brief meeting with council. We won't stand in the way. If council want to buy them they can go ahead and buy them and we are not going to hike the prices to play one against the other because Leonard and I both have a view around Hamilton City that we actually want to work to save the ratepayer money not hike it up or make a profit off it."
Stark said they would sell the buildings on to council at the same cost they paid for them plus any significant holding costs. "We can't go hugely into our own pockets as well so there has to be fair commercial reality at the end of the day to solve this potential problem or potential win for the city."
However, when the two men were approached by the Herald in November and asked if they knew about the council's plans, Gardener denied any knowledge about the council's plan and Stark would not be drawn on what he knew.
Last week, mayor Andrew King said he had no recollection of Stark and Gardner being approached first.
In the draft plan, which is to be put out for public consultation from March 29, the council approved the development of a central city park between Victoria on the River and Embassy Park and agreed to spend $12m on capital expenditure, and $6.41m on operating expenditure in the first five years of the plan. It also agreed to write off a total of $12.95m in building assets in the second and third years of the plan.