The Government will contribute more than $800,000 to two "Big Moves" projects in Rotorua, it was announced at the Redwoods this morning.
Regional Economic Development Under-Secretary Fletcher Tabuteau said $811,625 from the Provincial Growth Fund would go towards finalising the business cases for developing and enhancing Rotorua's Lakefront and Whakarewarewa Forest.
"These projects will develop and extend key infrastructure at the Lakefront and forest which will support the growth of the tourism sector as well as provide investment opportunities and employment," Tabuteau said.
"It is anticipated the projects, once complete, will generate more than $350 million in private and iwi investment, and potentially more than 800 jobs for the region."
The council's plan for the Lakefront includes an interactive sculpture park, visitor and coach parking, upgraded public toilets, a waka launching space and viewing platform, and jetty changes.
The council is also considering options for improving Long Mile Rd; a high-use entrance to the Whakarewarewa Forest trail networks, including a new mountain bike hub.
Both projects are included in the Rotorua Lakes Council's Long-Term Plan 2018-2028 which was adopted this week.
The funding announced today will go towards a business case and planning for the projects.
Tabuteau said it was "transformational" projects like these that the Provincial Growth Fund was interested in advancing.
"Thousands of people visit Rotorua annually to experience what we have to offer in these forests. Ideally, we need to not only meet their demands and expectations but exceed them. We need to get them to stay longer, spend more and rave about us."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the announcement aligned with the council's vision and Long-Term Plan.
"These are major investments in our future and it's about the future of our children and grandchildren."
"Our job is to lift visitor experiences and if we lift it for visitors, it's good for locals.
In consultation over the council's Long-Term Plan, 557 people had their say on the vision for the forest, with 335 opposing the proposed developments.
Chadwick said the council decided to include it in the plan anyway because "we know the economic value of this forest and value of the land".
"If we didn't do something for the sustainability of this place, which is so special, we could lose it.
"The wider community will understand when they see how investment will flow. We have to look after the place, we are kaitiakitanga."
Some submitters in the plan expressed concern about the amount of money the council would contribute and the debt levels if the forest was one of the council's core services.
"But this space is much more than just trees," Chadwick said.
"It's about linking culture and place and making sure while we make the most of economic opportunities, we also look after it conservation-wise."
In previous council meetings councillor Rob Kent asked what the point was in consultation if the council did not listen.
He told the Rotorua Daily Post today his view had not changed.
"I think what they've got planned for the forest is the right idea for the future, but it's more a timing issue.
"There are other priorities. Those that did submit on aspects said they weren't interested in this."
Kent said in his view, projects like the Lakefront and forest were not financially viable to develop at this point in time.
But in a written statement after the announcement, Chadwick said: "It is not a case of prioritising these projects over any others, but about seizing opportunities as they arise."
During the consultation period for the Long-Term Plan 278 people supported development at the Lakefront while 243 opposed it.
Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings is the company developing the area.
General manager Peter Faulkner said the potential there was exciting and the Provincial Growth Fund would help realise that.
"The first stage of development draws on the key focus points of Rotorua; our culture, natural resources and the lake," he said.
"It's critical for the long-term success of the city and country to establish Rotorua as a visitor destination that compliments Queenstown."
The business cases today's funding were for will allow the council to seek further funding from the provincial growth fund.
They will be submitted in August for consideration. The council is also putting forward money for the business cases which are the first step in making the projects happen.