Precinct still in need of winning recipe

By Michele Hunter

3 comments

The Wharf Street Dining Precinct:

Narrowed the lower section of Wharf St, below Willow St, to one-way. • Erected wooden wharf-themed outdoor furniture and strings of outdoor lanterns (yet to be reinstated after one string fell down in a storm). • Erected historical information plaques along the street.

A year on from its six-week winter festival launch, opinions remain divided on how well Tauranga's Wharf Street Dining Precinct has succeeded.

"I don't think it's fired that well - that's not a criticism, that's just my observation," Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

Mr Crosby, who regularly dines at Rotorua's highly-successful Eat Streat dining precinct, said the Wharf St trial needed to attract significant investment or be abandoned altogether.

"This kind of halfway-house thing is not a good long-term option," he said.

Blocking off the precinct to traffic - a popular option among some business owners and diners - was unnecessary, he said.

"It's very feasible to block off at short notice for events, weekends," Mr Crosby said - an option which had worked well for the inaugural Diwali Festival.

The future of Wharf St would be considered as part of council's Civic Heart project, he said.

Spokeswoman for project leaders Mainstreet Tauranga, Sally Cooke, said feedback on Stage One of the precinct had been mixed.

Some businesses had definitely noticed the benefits, while others were unsure, she said.

Tauranga City Council could look to follow the Eat Streat model, which was initiated by a group of neighbouring Rotorua businesses and developed into a permanent dining precinct by Rotorua District Council, Ms Cooke said.

"It needs more care and attention. It needs to develop on from there in collaboration with the business and property owners," she said.

Latest statistics showed pedestrian traffic had increased in Wharf St by 30 per cent between October 2015 and January this year, she said.

As part of the launch, Mainstreet hung rows of imported lanterns across the street but they were removed shortly afterwards amid safety concerns when a string crashed to the ground.

Earlier this month the council declined to fund the $54,000 required to re-install the lanterns.

Council transportation manager Martin Parkes said the shared space had seen a dramatic slowing in the speed of vehicles in the precinct, allowing pedestrians to wander more freely.

"The whole concept of the shared space, I believe, has been very successful down there."

The council planned to create more shared spaces in the city centre, he said.

"At the end of the day it's pedestrians that spend money in the city, not car drivers."

Owner of The Dry Dock Cafe, Sandra Johnson, said the future success of the precinct lay in attracting more quality eateries.

"I don't think anything will happen until that changes," she said.

She also wanted to see the precinct blocked to traffic.

At least once a day she sees a car travel up Wharf St, going the wrong way.

"Just close the street, make it safe," she said. "What a great opportunity it would be."

Drivers getting stuck behind delivery service vehicles and tooting their horns created unwanted negativity in the street, she said.

Dry Dock diner Carla agreed the road should be blocked.

She wanted to see more parking in Tauranga CBD.

"There's just not enough. We've got all these people moving to Tauranga but how many extra car parks have they made?" she said.

Neighbouring cafe owner Oi Mallasch took over Wharf St Eatery last week, and was yet to form a strong opinion on the one-way system but suspected restoring car park spaces outside the businesses would be beneficial.

During rush hour potential customers were looking for a car park before anything else, she said.

"Summer will be different I think, you park somewhere and walk around."

Waihi Beach resident and Wharf St diner, Alan Morris, really liked the one-way precinct.

"It encourages you to eat out on the street," he said.

A fellow diner, who did not wish to be named, said the precinct was still a road that's "sort of semi-closed off". More of the restaurant owners needed to invest in the outdoor dining experience, he said.

The road was not difficult to avoid as a thoroughfare and could remain open for service vehicles, he said.

"There's plenty of other roads, you don't have to use this. Why not make it something special."

Thai Thani 2 manager Amanda Kaur supported the one-way system as it allowed for better outdoor dining.

Co-owner of Rye - American Kitchen & Spirits, Josh Fitzgerald, said the precinct had been a success for his business but lacked a cohesive approach from all the restaurants and cafes.

The outdoor dining space had increased the profile of his restaurant.

"We've seen really positive support out of it, particularly in summer," he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said the wooden furniture in the street was recently bolted in place, preventing cars from nudging it out of the way to create parking spaces.

While it was a popular suggestion, Mr Fitzgerald said blocking the street completely would prevent access for delivery vehicles.

The reinstatement of the lanterns over the precinct would greatly add to the atmosphere. However, who would pay for this remained unresolved, he said.

He would welcome more quality eateries in the street.

"The more the merrier. The more quality options the better because it just raises the standard of the street," he said.

He also supported the idea of the precinct hosting markets during summer.

The issue of parking supply in Tauranga's CBD could be addressed by creating incentives for CBD workers, including his own staff, to park in less high-profile parks, possibly on the top levels of parking buildings, Mr Fitzgerald said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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