Hamilton the next big thing: projects line up for city of the future
It looks like there's no stopping Hamilton.
Big-ticket projects lined up include two major inland ports, major expressway links, a new riverside theatre, a $20 million Fonterra factory expansion, the Sevens series, a whole new suburb backed by a $272m Government loan, plus the proposed Waikato medical school.
Political and business figures think it's Hamilton's time to shine, but it comes with a warning: rapid growth could bring discomfort.
The city and its neighbouring districts are entering a period of incredible acceleration, Hamilton Mayor Andrew King said.
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"It's all about growth. Population growth brings people, brings jobs, and brings prosperity.
"We've got two [cabinet] ministers in Hamilton for the first time ever and we have also got the other ministers in Wellington who are taking a lot of interest in Hamilton.
"[A council staff member] made a comment the other day that they had never seen so many ministers coming and going from this building."
There are financial challenges for council, he said, as it isn't collecting enough revenue to cover what it spends now.
But many of the big projects won't be funded from the council purse, he said.
Spectacular-sized projects are not the only gig in town, either, Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive William Durning said.
There's action at all levels of business, including Swiss-based Mettler Toledo creating its centre of excellence in Pukete, and the new Waikato Valley Chocolates factory in Horotiu.
"I think we have got a few extra cards in our hand than other parts of the country do," he said.
"Let's not waste the opportunity."
There could be uncomfortable moments because growth comes in bursts, he said, but it would be short-term discomfort for long-term gain.
Hamilton city's gross domestic production is pegged at $7.5 billion annually and the city council is setting up a Hamilton Invest portal for anyone interested in adding to it.
Businesses are increasingly interested in having backroom functions in Hamilton, council general manager of growth Kelvyn Eglinton said.
"Everything from data centres, business continuity bases and call centres are saying, why wouldn't we move to Hamilton? We're 90 minutes' drive from half of the population, got the good airport, good links, we've got ultrafast broadband, we've got low natural hazard listings, we've got availability and affordability of land and builidngs."
Factors such as building damage in Wellington after the Seddon earthquake and cost and logistics issues in Auckland have contributed to Hamilton's rosy glow, he said.
Hamilton East National MP David Bennett agrees the city is on the cusp of something special.
The proposed Waikato medical school, for example, shows the city's maturity.
"When you get the growth, and when you get the investment in infrastructure that we've had in the last decade, it means you can go out and advocate and tender for these types of initiatives," Bennett said.
"The velodrome, the med school - these things happen once you have that scale.
"Hamilton is seen as a growing, hard-working city and it all comes together when you've got this scale and size."
Infometrics chief forecaster Gareth Kiernan agrees that Hamilton is well placed.
"If you were to pick one area where you would expect the longer-term trajectory to probably run ahead of nationwide growth on average, Hamilton or Waikato would be the leading candidate."
Population drift from Auckland is a factor, and the Waikato Expressway means a person or business in Hamilton may be closer to the south of Auckland than someone on the North Shore.
But Hamilton needs to learn from its northern neighbour's experience to avoid transport and housing pitfalls should growth further outstrip predications, he said.
That will require local and central government efforts to keep ahead of the game.
It's all good news, Hamilton City Councillor Garry Mallett agreed, but it will stretch the city.
"It challenges us in getting our core infrastructure right, which is primarily our waterworks and our roading network, and secondly it challenges the red tape and bureaucratic stance we take on land use."
A sense of boldness and confidence is coming through in business, said Mallett, who had just toured Fonterra's expanded Te Rapa factory.
Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Vanessa Williams said there's a good vibe in Hamilton and people want to operate businesses here.
"We're there to be counted ... I think we've got the stats and the data backing up that we're a real contender for investment, development and commercial opportunity."
Central city businesses are welcoming such moves as the Waikato District Health Board going into the old Farmers building and ASB consolidating branches at the end of Bryce Street to up foot traffic.
Even projects outside town will have a flow-on effect, she said.
A selection of Hamilton projects