A shortlist of concept designs for the upgrade of the Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre and a possible commercial building site has been released.

Earlier this year potential contractors for the design and build of the development took part in an Expression of Interest (EOI) process, Rotorua Lakes Council said on Monday.

The project group received 11 EOIs from local design and build teams.

Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Lockwood Group Ltd. Photo / Supplied
Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Lockwood Group Ltd. Photo / Supplied

An evaluation panel made up of representatives from Rotorua Lakes Council and CNI Iwi Holdings Ltd assessed their concept proposals against agreed criteria to confirm a shortlist of teams who would now refine their concepts further.

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A contract will be awarded for the upgrade in coming months.

The three local teams shortlisted to progress their concepts are Bishop Architecture/GRB Construction, Longmile Builders/Southern Draught, and Lockwood Group Ltd.

Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Bishop Architecture/GRB Construction. Photo / Supplied
Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Bishop Architecture/GRB Construction. Photo / Supplied

Rotorua Lakes Council's group manager strategy Jean Paul Gaston said the concept proposals provided confidence that an innovative solution for the popular destination would be achieved.

"We're really pleased to be able to engage three local companies in this next stage of the process and the proposals we've shortlisted are of a very high standard.

"I'm confident we'll be able to achieve a Visitor Centre and possible commercial building site that is innovative, fit-for-purpose, and embraces the cultural and natural elements of this special place," Gaston said.

The Visitor Centre upgrade and possible commercial building site is part of the wider forest development project.

The criteria for the job included an upgrade or replacement of the current centre that was innovative, attracted manuhiri (visitors), reflected both the central mana whenua (traditional iwi/hapū) narrative and the natural environment, and that had an integrated and flexible layout which could cater for future changes in use.

Gaston said the investment in the forest amenity remained a valuable piece of work.

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Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Longmile Builders/Southern Draught. Photo / Supplied
Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre design concept by Longmile Builders/Southern Draught. Photo / Supplied

"Recent data shows weekend activity in the forest, including walkers, runners and mountain bikers, is up on last year's data, which reinforces Rotorua's appeal to domestic tourists and how valuable the forest is to our district.

"Upgrading the Long Mile Rd Visitor Centre and creating space for a commercial building site will allow us to accommodate more visitors, provide additional services, and will lay the foundation for future commercial investment.

"In the current environment and in alignment with Rotorua's Build Back Better recovery strategy, this could not be a more fitting time for this work to get under way," he said.

Last month the Government announced an additional $90,000 on top of the $7 million the project had already received from the Provincial Growth Fund.

The current centre was built in 1970 and about 640,000 visitors walked through its doors last year. These visitors predominately seek information about how they can experience the forest, walking and cycling tracks, other tourism activities and cultural information.

Meanwhile, construction at the new forest hub off Tarawera Rd continues.

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The main car park development is now complete, with construction of the toilet block still under way. The hub is on track to open by Labour Weekend which should also coincide with the opening of the new forest loop cycle trail.

The city loop cycle trail remains in the planning stages and all upgrades on Long Mile Rd are now complete.

The forest development is a collaborative project between the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, Te Komiti Nui O Ngāti Whakaue, Tūhourangi Tribal Authority, CNI Iwi Holdings, and Rotorua Lakes Council.

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