The first stage of a downtown Tauranga student campus could be under way later this year, providing a big economic boost to the local region.
Tauranga City Council yesterday took the first step by agreeing to make its land in Durham St, opposite the Bay of Plenty Times available for the $55.5 million development.
In a rare unanimous decision, the councillors decided the Bay of Plenty Tertiary Education Partnership could use the land, presently a carpark, at no cost for 33 years, and then move on to a full commercial lease.
The 0.4-hectare site will be owned by council, and the move was subject to replacement carparking being found and funding being secured for the project.
Under the resolution, the council will also discuss with the tertiary partnership the possibility of covering $500,000 worth of development contributions and parking impact fees with a more transparent grant, rather than waiving those fees for the first two stages.
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The council would also look to retain the $110,000 revenue presently generated for leasing the Durham St carpark to Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.
Deputy Mayor David Stewart said the tertiary education campus must be the highest priority for the city.
"We have to keep our children here and attract other students from overseas. It's got to be good for economic development and will give a huge benefit and return for years to come; it will be the future of Tauranga," he said.
Councillor Larry Baldock said the development would be fantastic. "It's just not the courses but a campus. Who would not want to come and stay in our beautiful city?"
Councillor Wayne Moultrie said inner-city campuses were a wonderful experience for students. "I've no doubt in my mind that the direction we are heading the city is the right and proper one."
The tertiary partnership will now press ahead with funding applications totalling $30 million, $15 million each from Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust, for the first two stages of two buildings of at least five stories, covering nearly 10,000sq m and housing 1000 equivalent full-time students (EFTS).
Construction of the first building would start this year and be ready for at least 500 EFTS in 2015.
Stage two would begin in 2019 and create capacity for 1000 EFTS, or about 1500 part- and full-time students. These students would pour at least $30 million each year into the local economy, based on fees, accommodation and personal spending. Research income, could grow from $10 million to at least $20 million.
The partnership would look to fund stage three in 2025/26 to cater for 1500 EFTS by 2032. By then it hopes to extend the campus to 1.5ha, most of the Durham St block between Spring and Elizabeth Sts could be taken up by student activity. And those students will be pouring into the central business district.
Other sites considered for the campus were Sulphur Point, Hotel Armitage and an area in First and Second Avenues.
Waikato University, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, based in Whakatane, make up the partnership and will provide a wide range of teaching from practical courses through to post-graduate research.
This mixed tertiary education model is now being mooted for the rebuild in Christchurch. The assets, land, buildings and funds, in Tauranga will be held by the Tertiary Education and Research Charitable Trust.
Alister Jones, representing the partnership, said the project was a step change for the local economy and would make Tauranga vibrant.
"Most cities do have a university or university experience of some sort, and this region has one of the lowest percentages of people in tertiary education. The project will have a direct impact on social welfare and future economic growth," said Professor Jones, the deputy vice-chancellor of Waikato University.
"Our model is innovative and forward thinking, and research will play a key role. Vancouver is a classic example of a number of educational groups coming together to grow the city.
"International students are attracted to coastal cities. Waikato University recently lost a teacher education contract to a university down the pecking order on the Sunshine Coast ... because that's where the agent in Canada wanted to send the students," he said.
Professor Jones said the unanimous support from councillors was significant to the success of the project. "It showed community support for the development of tertiary education in the city."