Capable, Strategic Leadership
Creating Tauranga’s Civic Heart Submission
Question 1. Do you support the development of a new civic administration building with surrounding open space (a civic place), by 2020, on our Willow Street site?
A. I do not support the current proposal for the development of a new Council Administration Building with surrounding open space.
Like many people who heard of the civic heart project I thought we were looking at a museum or library (or both combined) but the consultation document proposes a new Council building as the first step toward a civic heart.
I accept that the Council has a need to provide space for staff who had to relocate from the Administration building and some of the space in the Council Chambers Building and Customer Service centre. These are major problems that Council has needed to address and find solutions for in the short, medium and long term.
I do not believe the proposals contained in the ALTP consutation documents are the right approach to solving these problems.
It has been 19 months since the forced evacuation of staff from the administration buildings. Ratepayers are now spending $1.5 million a year leasing office space in the city while a decision is made about fixing the problem.
We are being asked to give feedback on a grand master plan that is becoming very controversial and is starting to look, sound and smell like other master plans that are gathering dust on shelves in our archives.
There is a well known saying, “he who fails to plan, plans to fail,” but in the world of local politics I think it it is also true to say that “if you spend to much time and money on a grand master plan in a 3 year political cycle, you might also be planning to fail!
I do not support this Master plan not because I am opposed to seeing an exciting inner city redevelopment, but because in my opinion this is not the way to get there.
Council is beginning to spend way to much on the plan and not enough on actually doing something about the problem.
It should not have taken 19 months to bring forward a document for public consultation. It has cost far too much to prepare and does not give the public well considered options to respond to.
It seems clear to most of us who read the questions in this consultation that there are not 3 options you are seeking feedback on, but simply 3 stages of the one option that starts with a $62 million new Council admin building on some of the best real estate in the city. Why did it take 16 months for a report to come to Council with the estimated costs of renovation and recommendations regarding the existing buildings?
Why were not more questions asked regarding the conclusion that “it was found that the cost of remediation of the Administration, Chambers and Customer Services buildings to a basic level of office quality exceeded their post-remediation value?”
The second reason for recommending demolition was that there was “the risk around certainty of fix” and thirdly “providing one future proofed location.”
The post remediation value is hardly relevant since Council do not sell our buildings, at least not very often. That reasoning was flawed in my opinion. It wasn’t just the wrong answer it was entirely the wrong question.
Given all the factors that must be considered the important question would have been; Could remediation and renovation be a cost effective medium term option that delivered the best outcome for the city and the plan to create a civic heart, even if that did not provide a future proofed permanent long term fit for purpose building?
In my opinion it could be. I can only say ‘could be’ because unlike the Elected Members I do not have the opportunity to ask staff to investigate other options and give further information.
I will deal with all the buildings individually shortly, but let me first make this point.
The cost of renovation is, I assume, based on expert advice on the cost to renovate down to the last dollar. Let us note that this is no ball park figure. Based on information from business case presentation to Council 04/16 it is not a total of approx $28 mil, but $28,725,736. The $736 implies a considerable amount of detail in this costing. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the work being costed must be much better than the half-hearted fixes that have been attempted over the past decade. No one would spend millions without detail of what will be fixed.
1. The Old Administration Building (Spring St)
Estimated cost to renovate $10, 867,816
This building sits on land that could be better utilsed for the Civic Square development.
For various reasons including its location, its style, age, and layout I agree that the $10 million would be better spent on providing an alternative working environment for staff. I recall discussion with the Council CE at least 10 years ago about removing this ugly building from the City Landscape.
2. Council Chambers Building. (Bldg A)
Estimated Cost to renovate, $6,119,246
Recommendation: Remediate and renovate.
3. Customer Service Building (Bldg C)
Estimated Cost to Renovate $6,898,728
Recommendation: Remediate and renovate.
Buildings A & C are more modern in appearance. Their location is where the proposed Performance Venue (PV) would be built.
Given the financial implications of the entire Civic Heart development which I shall refer to later I suggest it may be some time, possibly at least 10-15 years in the future before any PV could be built on this location, if at all. Especially if Council is going to spend much more building a new office than comparable recent private office developments with larger floor space.
The estimated combined cost to remediate and renovate both buildings is $13,017,974. This is a large amount that must be able to achieve a reasonable degree of satisfactory repair.
The weather tightness crisis of the past decade has shown that buidlings can be fixed. A comparison with large scale renovations to commercial leaky buildings such as offices and apartments would demonstrate that a $13 million budget is a considerable amount for the remediation and renovation of the two Council buildings in question.
The staff report makes it clear it may be difficult to guarrantee no future problems but this could be overemphasising the obvious reality of many older buildings. To some extent who can ever give such guarrantees.
The question should be; Could the buildings serve well enough for a reasonable period of time that would justify the expense of remediation and renovation.
4. The Library Building (Bldg B)
Estimated Cost to renovate $4,839,945
Even with remediation and renovation of Bldg A & C Council will need more space to accommodate all staff in one location. Using the exisiting Library could be an option.
The Library sits where the proposed PV is proposed in the master plan which would mean that it would have to be eventually demolished and a new Library built if the PV was to go ahead. It would be better to bring this project forward as a priority.
Given that no evacuations have yet been required from the library it is difficult to know what the estimated costs of remediation were based upon. Recent tests have shown no evidence of toxic mould but this could emerge as a serious issue at anytime. In light of this risk, planning for a new Library would perhaps be more important than the Council administration building.
Councillors will, I am sure, be aware that the ‘friends of the library’ organisation is much larger and more persausive than any ‘friends of the Council’ support group.
The cost of renovating Bldg A, B, & C is $17,857,919 for a total floor space of 6517 sq mtrs only 1653 sq mtrs less than the 8170 sq mtrs in the proposed new Council admin building.
Given that Council is already spending $1.5 million pa. on leasing office accomodation in the city for relocated staff, it would only require that the renovations of Bldg A,B & C would meet the needs of Council for 11.9 years for it to be cost effective. There would also be other financial factors to consider such as debt servicing, depreciation and running costs that would more than likely have a positive affect on the viabilty of this proposal.
The increased operating expenses of $5 mil proposed in the ALTP for 2020/21 from occupancy costs $1.8 mil, depreciation $2.5mil and debt servicing $3.5 mil would go a long way to offsetting the renovation costs as soon as 2023.
A newly designed and constructed modern future proofed Library on the northern side of the Council owned land would be a much better first step to creating a Tauranga’s civic heart. If this could also be combined with providing exhibition space for the beginnings of a Musuem it would be a great step forward for the city at much less cost that $62 million.
Recommendation: Remediate and renovate and relocate Library
Question 2. Do you support the development of a civic square on Masonic Park to better connect to the waterfront?
Yes and No! The development of Masonic park has some merit but not as a proposed civic square.
The Masonic Park civic square as a proposal is a bit like going for a family picnic and only having a handkerchief to sit on instead of a blanket.
It provides an important view shaft from Durham St to the Waterfront and this has always been accepted within the City Centre development framework. Rather than trying to squeeze a new Council building, Library, Museum and Performance Venue alongside Baycourt on the Council Willow St site, more space should be left for a larger civic square to be developed over time in the area currently behind what will be the demolished Admin Building.
Question 3. Do you support us doing a feasibility study to investigate the best options for providing fit-for-purpose future-proofed library?
Absolutely, but with a clear purpose to build this new facility first once the Admin bldg. has been demolished.
If this first stage of the Civic Heart project creates pressure on Councils debt/revenue ratio and debt cap of $500 mil in the years of 2019 – 2022 how will Council respond to other phases like the new Library and Museum. There will also be other priorities that need to be addressed such as new water treatment at Waiari to service growth in the East and major road developments to address growing traffic congestion within our road network to mention only two important issues.
Question 4. Do you support us doing a feasibility study to determine if as a community we should consider investing in a museum?
No. Surely there have been enough feasibility studies in the past 15 years.
The political risk of money being spent in all the investigations and planning only to see Elected Members back away from the project because of pressure from some segments of the community is too great.
The many stories of this area that contain our history need to told and shared in a variety of compelling and exciting ways. A single museum in a CBD location is only one of the ways to achieve this and needs to be considered carefully. Building the bricks and mortar of a museum building is a considerable investment but only the first step in the commitment from our community. The funding for the ongoing operation of the museum needs to be considered as well.
That is why it may be worth investigating the option in the new library feasibility study to look at a Library with some exhibition space to show the items we currently have in storage, as a first step. With all the Council staff now employed in the City Centre development team I cannot see why another $100,000 needs to be added to the budget for this.
Once proposals have been developed it would be worthwhile to broaden the consultation from just the limited submission process by putting proposals to rate payers in a survey distributed with property rates and water rates invoices. This could give a broader indication of support that could avoid the flip-flop, back track, cold feet of Elected Members.
Question 5. Do you support us doing a feasibility study to determine if as a community we should retain the opportunity for a future performance venue?
No. Sort the other priorities of Council Offices and Library first.
Question 6 Do you support us seeking a private developer to build a hotel on the Council-owned 21 – 41 Durham Street site?
Yes. But this question does not really get us anywhere.
The economic impact study done by Tourism BOP in 2013 showed that the Hotel would bring millions of dollars of benefit to the city.
What Council needs to be consulting on is whether there is support for what Council may need to do in order to get a hotel project across the line. Always demanding market value for the Hotel site land on Durham St perhaps makes a hurdle too high for private developers. Council needs to seek support for doing something like the proposal for the University Campus in Durham St.
In fact getting the hotel project underway is one of the key components to the CBD revitalization. Congratulations to Council for beginning to address planning issues on the City Centre to help remove barriers to the provision of more apartments in the City Living Zone. People living in this zone and visitors coming to stay in the hotel for tourism and conferences will do much more than an expensive new Council Civic Admin Building.
Finally I would suggest that the way forward is to take one or two steps at a time, meeting the existing and medium term needs that have broad support.
Leave room for more space to evolve in the heart of the civic heart if the commnuity want it. Not everyone visualises things from a plan. Let it grow and develop organically.
Perhaps over the next 10-20 years common sense will have prevailed in the arrangements regarding Local Government in the Western Bay. Along with further progress on ‘shared services’ perhaps we could get to some arrangement on ‘shared buildings.’ Does it really serve the purposes of the rate payers and customers of Tauranga and the Western Bay to have the Regional Council owning/occupying separate buildings in the CBD? One location to do business with Regional and City Council with a single City and District plan with uniform rules would surely have merit would it not?
Any attempt to make a Council office building the cornerstone of a new civic heart for the city is not the best strategy. Buidings whatever they are for will not create the heart. It’s people, it’s people, it’s people.