LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Revitalising Tauranga’s heart – Work begins on city centre transformation

GARETH WALLIS | General Manager: City Development & Partnerships – Tauranga City Council

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Gareth Wallis’ excitement about his role as Tauranga City Council’s General Manager: City Development & Partnerships is palpable.

Gareth Wallis

There’s a very good reason for that – the projects his team are working on, amongst other things, are steadily putting in place the building blocks for a rejuvenated city centre – a place visitors will talk about and remember, and locals will be proud of.

“After decades of neglect and indecision, we’re now working with our city partners and the community to create a city centre that will be a very special place,” he says. “This is a once in a generation opportunity. I was brought up in

Tauranga and the opportunity to be part of something like this is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Gareth hails the vision of the Council’s commissioners, who made some bold decisions to reverse the fortunes of a commercial centre that had been in decline for years.

Gareth Wallis discussing the scope of Tauranga’s city centre transformation with a recent tour group.

“They understood that decisive action would be required to build the community facilities we had been lacking and get the heart of the city pumping again; and they also saw the opportunity to link those facilities to a wider city centre redevelopment which will also see the nearby waterfront reserve redeveloped into a welcoming greenspace, events venue and destination playground.”

The ‘heart’ of this concept though is Te Manawataki o Te Papa (the heartbeat of Te Papa), the city’s former civic precinct, where a library and community hub, civic whare (public meeting space) and museum and exhibition gallery will take shape over the next five years.

These long-awaited community facilities will see $306 million invested and with more than $1.5 billion in private and public sector investment also committed over the next eight years, the city centre will undergo an economic, cultural and social renaissance, bringing far-reaching benefits for generations to come.

As the thought leader spearheading this significant work programme, Gareth is committed to restoring this once-vital area and making it a great place to live, work, learn and play.

Gareth joined the Council in 2017. He was appointed General Manager: Community Services in 2019 and then moved into his current position in 2022. Previously, he had worked in a variety of local government leadership roles and has a background in the performing arts, event management, and emergency management, the latter at a practical level as a Fire and Emergency New Zealand volunteer for nearly 20 years.  He is a member of the Bay Venues Board of Directors and is a director of the AIMS Games.

Gareth has a strong focus on relationship development within the community, enjoys building successful and engaged teams, and always strives to put in place processes that create accountability and transparency in decision-making.

While the bulk of his team’s work is future-oriented, significant attention is also focused on the here and now. Work is underway on the upgrade of Tunks Reserve and Elizabeth Street East and on the redevelopment of Masonic Park, which will link the civic precinct to the waterfront. The Council’s future leased administration office is rapidly taking shape at 90 Devonport Road and work on the new library and community hub facility is due to start early in 2024.

“Council is also committed to supporting the city centre during this time of transformation and is implementing a range of initiatives to help with its ongoing growth, development and success.

“Some of these include short-term parking options, establishing a City Safety and Engagement Advisor, supporting the development of student accommodation, and creating events and activations to encourage people to come in and spend time in the area,” Gareth says.

“We’re also meeting regularly with local business owners to listen and, where we can, implement any ideas that could help to reduce any short-term disruption to their operations.”

To offset the loss of parking spaces on the waterfront, the first stage of the redeveloped Dive Crescent car park opened recently and more on-street parking is being created, together with a new ground level car park at 160 Devonport Road and the return of the Spring Street car park building to full capacity following the completion of seismic strengthening work.

With the warmer summer days approaching, an events calendar has been launched for the city centre, bringing a range of exciting free activities for everyone to enjoy. Organised by the Council and supported by Downtown Tauranga, the events aim to bring more people into the area over the coming months and support city centre businesses as the transformation takes place.

“The activities and events planned for this summer are a great way to instantly inject more vibrancy into the area and give people a taste of what they can expect in the future,” Gareth says. “Everyone in the community can play their part in supporting the city centre during this time and we encourage people to keep visiting their favourite spots to shop, dine and attend events.

“It’s also a great chance to see first-hand the exciting progress being made as our city centre transforms into a place that we can all enjoy and feel proud of.”

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