By: John Cousins

Tauranga City Council’s economic development committee yesterday endorsed the two sites as contenders for the Waikato University facility.

The decision meant further investigations would now take place over the next three months to determine the most feasible site for a building up to 5,000 square metres in size.

The shortlisted locations were a big chunk of Marine Park on Keith Allen Drive and one of several passive parks at the northern end of Sulphur Point where it widened into carparks and commercial businesses.

It would potentially become the second prime council-owned site in central Tauranga offered to the university for a major development. The other site, a big off-street carpark in Durham St, was now under development for the new tertiary campus.

The university currently operated a coastal marine field station in a commercial building in Cross Rd, beside the Sulphur Point boat ramps.

Although yesterday’s decision did not amount to a commitment to provide the land, councillor Rick Curach wanted to make it clear early on that a site would be available only on a market-value, long-term lease.

“They have the ability to pay,” he said.

He was supported by councillor Gail McIntosh, who said it had to be market value to be fair to ratepayers.

But councillor Larry Baldock said more data and research was needed on the benefits of having the facility in Tauranga. “We should not be so hard-nosed right now.”

Councillor Bill Grainger said it could end up being the best facility of its kind in Australasia. “Let’s not put barriers up.”

Councillor Steve Morris, who was not a member of the committee, said the council needed to enter negotiations seeking a full commercial return. “Our starting position has to be a bit stronger than zero.”

Mayor Greg Brownless said it was highly unlikely that it would be a gift and he would be looking for some returns to ratepayers from the government. “It is important to get the commercial arrangements sorted.”

Mr Curach’s move was defeated 4-2, with the final vote to press ahead with further investigations on the shortlisted options won unanimously.

Waikato University’s Dean of Science, Professor Chad Hewitt, said the research and education facility could include an interpretation centre to give visitors a better understanding of the work, but it would not be a full tourism experience.

He said their primary concern about the choice of site was which one offered the best quality of water from the harbour for the wet labs inside the new building.

Unlike the marine field station, the new facility would be about undergraduate and post-graduate teaching.

“That is the future of our activity here.”

Benefits of Marine Research and Education Centre
– Expanded tertiary and post-tertiary education opportunities
– Enhanced international research partnerships
– Build on extensive iwi partnerships
– Open up further opportunities to enhance the coastal environment

Source: NZ Herald


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