The National Arboretum's managers are on the lookout for a private investor to build a boutique hotel and conference centre and already have a site reserved, a string of emails reveal.
But to make the "blue sky idea" a reality it will have to attract support from the federal government to amend the National Capital Plan to allow the development.
Executive manager Stephen Alegria wrote to the ACT government's Economic Development Directorate last August asking how to determine market interest in a hotel development.
The prospect of onsite accommodation has been flagged before, most recently when the ACT government launched a public survey into future development at the arboretum last month, but internal documents reveal the proposal was already progressing.
The arboretum's master plan identifies forest 69, south of Dairy Farmers Hill, as the site for a future hotel/conference centre, Mr Alegria said in an email to National Capital Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow in September.
"This significant initiative is in the very early stages of consideration, and I would welcome National Capital Authority involvement in a working group which would oversee development of the scope," Mr Algeria wrote.
The 1.7 hectare area was previously earmarked for a future forest of Chinese golden larch trees, according to a trail map, but an internal overview of the hotel proposal said it was a "prime location for a tourism/visitor related facility" given its central location within the arboretum and "unsurpassed long distance views to the south east, east, north west and west".
The infrastructure master plan indicates the hotel and conference facility would be "medium-sized" and built within five to 10 years through a public/private partnership with an expressions of interest process to begin when economic conditions were "suitable".
It also flags the future development of "boutique" tree house accommodation also through private investment.
Private sector interest in the site was likely to be strong, the internal document said, but the community's perception of the arboretum as a public space and the "pre-eminence of the forests as the main purpose and drawcard" would be among the considerations before the development went ahead.
The proposal would also have to enhance the experience for all visitors while considering the commercial opportunities from "unfilled niches" in the regional tourism market such as eco-tourism and the likely future impacts of direct international flights to Canberra from Singapore and New Zealand.
It was hoped the development could address unmet demand for wedding receptions and intimate dining at the arboretum while also complementing existing facilities.
The proposal was expected to be launched to the market by autumn 2016, but minutes from a meeting of the working group last December, which included representatives from NCA and ACT government, indicate it hit a road block when it was discovered the National Capital Plan would have to be amended.
The ACT government will have to present a business case, get the NCA on board and consult the public before the proposed amendment goes before Territories Minister Paul Fletcher.
The NCA would have to approve the design before work would begin.
Tourism Australia was "very supportive of the concept", according to the meeting's minutes, seeing it as an "opportunity to meet an unfiled and expanding niche for an ecologically sustainable, integrated and boutique facility" in the ACT.
The NCA invited Mr Alegria to present the proposed National Capital Plan amendment at its board meeting on April 14, but he asked for it to be delayed until there was a concrete proposal for the hotel development.
In March, Mr Alegria admitted at least 10 per cent of the forests were struggling with staff replanting about 1000 trees last year.
But the ACT government won't say how much it has spent replacing the dead trees and is also remaining tight lipped over if or when a review into the health of thousands of ailing trees will be released publicly.
The arboretum's patron Jon Stanhope said he hoped the review was released publicly, when he was appointed to the position in January.
The cost of replacing the trees came from the Arboretum's operating budget and $648,000 worth of capital upgrades in 2014-15, an ACT Government spokeswoman, but the exact figure was "unable to be extracted as a distinct cost".
The capital upgrades also covered a temporary car park at the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion and shade at the Pod Playground.
"Modest cash costs" to develop promotional and media material for the proposed hotel would be met by the Arboretum's recurrent budget, according to a briefing to then-Territory and Municipal Services minister Shane Rattenbury last September.