Rotorua's deputy mayor says the way to bring vibrancy to the troubled inner-city is to populate it.
It comes as a council committee agreed to progress an action plan for Rotorua Economic Development (RED) to work with developers on apartment buildings in the city.
Rotorua Lakes Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston told the council's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee that money for any projects would come from the existing district development operational budget.
"It is also our expectation that in developing these business cases there will be an intention to try and recover some of that investment.
"In the worst case it is from existing budgets."
The money would be used for the assessment of opportunities and due diligence.
"We are delegating to RED to undertake some of that investigation [into development opportunities], looking for partners, undertaking due diligence, but as they prepare a business case that will come back to [the] council for approval."
The report presented to the committee signalled two locations were already of interest for potential development: the Pukuatua St car park building and a car park at 1134 Haupapa St.
Te Tatau o Te Arawa representative Eugene Berryman-Kamp asked why the two locations had been identified before an open expressions of interest process.
"There's a part of me that … thinks we may be moving to a pre-determined state as to where the development might be."
Gaston said the intention was not to look at those two properties exclusively but to ensure the council was transparently identifying which council properties could be considered.
He said RED interim chief executive Andrew Wilson had already begun preliminary discussions with various developers, including iwi, to make them aware of the approach the council was taking.
Gaston said there were many options for various sites, such as selling a piece of land for a partnering organisation which would build a development, or minority shareholding on developments, but those would ultimately be decided by the council when it considered business cases.
"We are seeking expressions of interest from potential investment partners to develop sites in the city, at which point a business case would be prepared. That business case will be considered for its investment value to achieve our wider objectives … of inner-city living.
"That business case will be signed off by the RED board, and the case will be brought to you, as council, to evaluate whether you think it's a successful or reasonable investment decision."
Councillor Reynold Macpherson suggested RED was acting as a "property development company" but Gaston rejected that.
"We've extended their objectives to investigate partnerships for some property development within the inner city. Those decisions are carried still by [the] council."
In response to a question from councillor Raj Kumar, Gaston said the council would consider working with Kainga Ora or the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development on projects but the council's focus was on working with the private market.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said the council had waited for too long for the private sector to create housing in the city and it hadn't happened.
"The way to bring vibrancy to the inner city is to populate it.
"To me, [it's] a sit-up-and-take-notice to anyone in the market out there to engage with RED, and that we mean business."
Rotorua's CBD had been the subject of criticism due to perceptions of safety, leading the council to increase funding for security patrols.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the council had created Te Manawa – "the heart of the city" - but it didn't have "the eyes and ears we need".
"I really do hope it's a strong signal to developers, because many are interested."
Councillor Macpherson said he recognised the need to satisfy demand for housing and "boosting footfall in the CBD" but he wanted to wait for decision-making based on each business case, and would abstain from voting.
The rest of the committee then agreed to recommend to the full council for it to approve the terms of reference and that RED, in principle, develop a business case on a development at the two inner-city carparks.
In the meeting, the committee also agreed to change the reserve classification of part of the Rotorua Cemetery Reserve from Recreation Reserve to Local Purpose (Cemetery) Reserve.
The land had been gifted by Ngāti Whakaue for use as a cemetery, and the council could either return it or redesignate it, council community wellbeing deputy chief executive Jocelyn Mikaere said.
There had been four submissions, all of which had supported the plan, she said.