Developers promise $800k, maybe more for Garden Place do up

The new design for Hamilton's Garden Place, put forward by Hamilton property investors Matt Stark, Steve McLennan and ...

The new design for Hamilton's Garden Place, put forward by Hamilton property investors Matt Stark, Steve McLennan and architect Brian White.

City developers are looking at putting $800,000 towards a private proposal to redevelop Garden Place.

The latest attempt to spring life back into the city's central square is the brainchild of Matt Stark, Steve McLennan and architect Brian White who made the offer to kick off funding at Hamilton City Council's growth and infrastructure committee on Tuesday.

The last one, opened in 2011 by then mayor Julie Hardaker, was a $3.7 million refurbishment as part of the City Heart Revitalisation project.

Property developer Matt Stark.

Property developer Matt Stark.

The trio revealed their plans in August which would see cars return to the city square 43-years after it was converted from a car park.

Stark estimates the total cost of a redesign to be $3.8 million plus consultation fees.

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The $800,000 private contribution would come from a mixture of local business investment and community grants but with goodwill and string pulling - it's for the good of the city, he said - he hopes to reduce that estimated cost by half.

"Some consultants have offered to do it pro bono," he said. "We'll use our influence and say: 'Hey this is the time to contribute.' "

He also said the work could be done privately and then delivered back to council once complete.

"I'd like to build the design up better and see if we can drive those costs down," Stark said.

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"Why not? Let's do it today or tomorrow because it is not getting any better."

The council committee voted 9 to 2 to support a recommendation to take the next step in discussion with Stark, McLennan and White but are treading carefully.

Councillors Leo Tooman and Angela O'Leary opposed the recommendation. Cr Paula Southgate was absent from the meeting.

The concept would see a loop road run anti-clockwise around Garden Place from Victoria Street with parking spaces interspersed throughout the area.

Garden Place has 1400 square metres of grass and no gardens, except in planter boxes. The new design would retain the same amount of green space with new gardens planted.

Seven zones would be created with the existing grassed area retained.

The existing stage would remain and play areas would be built. There would be improved drainage and the existing infrastructure would stay.

McLennan, whose family owns a building at Garden Place, said retailers need activity to thrive. The city square is lagging behind other developments in the city.

"I think we need a town square we can be proud of and I don't think we've got that at the moment," McLennan said.

"It's slowly ground down to the point where it attracts a lot of undesirable behaviour."

A redesign concept would allow shoppers, in the area for an just over an hour on average, to reach retailers easily.

"They are increasingly destination shops in the CBD.

"If we can do this work in the centre it would provide a catalyst for the shop owners to provide activity at the edges."

Cr Mark Bunting said getting Garden Place right was "about as easy as nailing a jellyfish to a mirror".

He's supporting the recommendation to the next stage but O'Leary said building owners have failed to invest and previous council do-ups have failed too.

"I'm lukewarm on this idea," O'Leary said. "We did it in 2010 and it didn't work. I don't think this is going to work and I don't think at this point in time I could commit."

Cr Geoff Taylor was critical of previous designs and said little has been done to enhance the space.

"It's a dog," Taylor said. "If you starve the area of traffic and parking what do you expect? We need to get activity in there."

Cr James Casson​ said Garden Place needs to be made presentable for visitors to the city and safe for users.

​"We have to do something with Garden Place," Casson said. "If we can get people using Garden Place to the extent it should be, it will be a safer central city."

Cr Garry Mallett said more information is needed on the cost to ratepayers and is concerned council's Victoria on the River project competes with Garden Place.

"I will just dip my toe in to this one and see where it goes," he said.

Cr Leo Tooman​ said council has an obsession with car parks and he's opposed to shared spaces.

"We are hell bent on changing it," Tooman said.

 - Stuff

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