The Hamilton City Council is discussing plans to acquire and bowl a suite of buildings along Victoria St to extend the newly developed Victoria on the River urban park to Embassy Park beside the proposed theatre.
The council discussed the multimillion-dollar concept in a public excluded section at last Thursday's full council meeting - the same week Hamilton Mayor Andrew King announced a proposed 16.5 per cent rates increase to keep the city running without digging into debt.
King would not comment about what was happening in the area because it had been discussed in the public excluded part of the meeting, but said it would be raised in public as part of the Long Term Plan on December 6 and 7. "There's nothing concrete that we are doing anything."
But the Herald understands the council has already signed off spending money - understood to be tens of thousands - on getting an external consultant to develop a plan to open up the area between the new theatre and the park. It would include purchasing a large number of properties between Victoria on the River and Embassy Park where the Riff Raff statue is.
Last week's meeting was to alert councillors to the principle and concept and they then agreed to pay for a plan to be developed as part of the Victoria on the River precinct update.
In the meantime, the Herald understands King has been trying to raise some external funding for the expensive project, which could include purchasing 12 buildings with a total CV of $10.7m plus extra development costs.
The Herald understands a third party had also been approaching property owners supporting the council's vision.
Foster Construction commercial manager Leonard Gardner confirmed Fosters had just purchased the buildings next to Embassy Park where Snapshot Cameras ran from so it could increase the size of the plaza entrance.
"We've acquired this property to help support the theatre going there, not to retire."
Gardner was also open to purchasing other properties along the Victoria St stretch "to do something decent there".
Property developer Matt Stark, who owns several buildings in the earmarked area, said he was always looking at purchasing properties in the city including Victoria St.
Stark said he was not approaching businesses on the Hamilton City Council's behalf about the plans and had no agreement with it. "The thing is I'm using all my own money. When I purchase something it is all me.
"I don't have a master plan. When properties come up for sale you take these opportunities."
Murray Vereker-Bindon, who lives in a property on the river side, said he was approached by a real estate agent about three weeks ago asking if he and the other owners in the building would be interested in selling.
Of the six owners in the block of units, Vereker-Bindon said three were not interested, two wanted to know more, and one did not respond. The real estate agent would not disclose to Vereker-Bindon who the interested party was.
The only price indication offered by the agent was that it would be on or above market value, he said.
But Vereker-Bindon had lived in the property for 20 years and had no intention of moving.
"My reaction would be I'm not interested in a sale. If someone was to buy my unit - what does that leave me to do? It leaves me to find another property somewhere else. I like where I'm living, one reason I've been there for that long.
"I don't have any interest in moving and I don't think I could find anything comparable in the city at anything like the price we might be offered."
Other Victoria St property owners contacted by the Herald were aware of the mayor's plans and some told the Herald they fully supported it. The Herald reported last month King's vision for the area which he said was "bigger" than purchasing the neighbouring properties.
But Hamilton East MP David Bennett said most ratepayers would want the council to exercise judgment in any major expenditure it would undertake in the near future when faced with a 16.5 per cent rate rise.
"If we are in the financial position that council is saying we are then this is probably not the time to be advocating any large-scale purchases in that area I would have thought.
"If you are looking at building another park in the central city that doesn't seem to fit with any plan that we've seen for the development of the river or Hamilton's growth. With a city that's got growth pressures it may be better to invest that money into the actual growth of the city rather than a park in the downtown area."