Challenge to fill empty shops in Bay CBDs

By Simon Hendery

17 comments
Vacant shops in Hastings CBD.
Vacant shops in Hastings CBD.

For lease signs are plastered on the windows of a significant number of CBD store fronts across Hawke's Bay as retailers give up the fight to stay in business and civic leaders grapple with the challenge of keeping their central town and city centres vibrant.
"Our picture around retailing is that it's pretty flat. Some are doing okay and some are really struggling," says Graeme Norton, acting chief executive of the Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce.
"That's not dissimilar to manufacturing and exporting and all different types of industry. There's been some improvement in the economy recently but you'd have to say it's been pretty patchy when it comes down to individuals and certainly at a retail level people are hanging onto their money. There's been some movement in interest rates so for those who are committed there's less money to spend."
When it comes to ensuring the region's CBDs are vibrant, bustling centres of commerce, local councils can only do so much, Mr Norton says.
"It's limited what councils can do because ultimately what will make CBD retail buoyant or not is whether people have money to spend and that comes from whether they have a job or not and whether the economy, in particular the private sector economy, is robust.
"It comes back to a bigger picture of the Hawke's Bay economy which will ultimately drive whether or not retailers are successful. Councils can try to keep the infrastructure up - CBDs that are tidy and presentable and those sorts of things - but even then they're reliant on ratepayers to fund that and it goes back around in a circle again."
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule agrees that the wider economic picture is the main factor driving vibrancy - or a lack of it - in the region's CBDs.
"We're out of the worst of the recession but there's still a lot or hurt in Hawke's Bay, it's a tentative recovery so people aren't opening their cheque books on a whole lot of discretionary stuff so those four things combined make for quite a difficult period for the retail sector."
He says the need to invest in earthquake strengthening for a number of commercial buildings in one of the factors impacting retailing.
Another significant factor is the growing shift to shopping online and a change in how people "interact with retail" through a focus on big-format retail stores, for example, which has hit the traditional high street operator.
"The whole pattern of spending has changed," he says.
"Probably the Hastings CBD is two blocks too large in the long term in terms of retail demand.

What we're looking at is how we can fill those blocks with other uses which is why we've looked at things like call centres, even some educations opportunities for re-using those buildings if they can be earthquake strengthened in a suitable way. So it's about changing the mix."
The council doesn't have specific targets in mind, but thought has been given to some "re-configuration" in the CBD.
"I'm not saying the blocks need to go or be turned into green space or anything, I'm just saying we may need to find a different type of use for them, which may not end up being retail," he says.
"Retail is hard and people ask me what we can do about it. Our approach, and we're quite single-minded about it, is to actually get jobs into our CBD.
An example of the result the council is striving for in its push to add more "people intensive areas" in the CBD is the recent success in enticing Kiwibank to relocate its call centre to central Hastings, bringing with it potentially up to 200 jobs.
"If we did really well and we got a thousand extra people working in the CBD it will fundamentally change retail, the cafes, all those sorts of things. It would be very supportive and if I look at what the council can do to try and make a difference in a very changing retail space, then our view is that that's the best thing we can do," Mr Yule says.
"Changing parking configurations or upgrading streets work to a point, but what we need is economic activity and people.
"You see that in Napier with the cruise ship industry. Over those months that they're there, there are a whole lot more people around, so naturally there is a higher spend. In Hastings we don't get that same number of people from cruise ships but if we can create real jobs and people in the CBD then that's how we can add to foot traffic and spend."
Meanwhile in Napier, Mayor Bill Dalton says the city is also fighting a battle to add vibrancy to the CBD.
"We're doing everything we can to encourage new business to town," he says.
"Napier is quite unique in that it has two halves. At night Napier goes dark and Ahuriri lights up so what I want to do is get some light and life into the city and that will bring new people in. If people are used to coming into the city they will also come in to shop.
"It will mean some of our office buildings that may become redundant in terms of office use can be successfully turned into apartments to bring life back into the city."
With that in mind, one initiative currently being developed is a plan to light up inner-city trees, buildings and Clive Square.
"That will be a welcoming sight as people arrive into our new transport depot at the top of Carlyle Street and it will draw people into the city, and also draw people down through the city," Mr Dalton says.
"It's all just about making the city lighter, brighter and more vibrant, and I think that will attract people to live in the city. It's inevitable, with the way things are moving, that we're going to end up with vacant office space in the inner city because a lot of Ahuriri is being converted into office area. If we can replace office tenants with residential tenants that will bring people into the city and we'll bring vibrancy back into the city - we're working very hard on that."
Mr Yule says Hastings has looked into the concept of growing inner-city accommodation, but says it appears to be an idea better suited to Napier.
"We're just not sure there's a market for it in Hastings. So we've largely focused on getting economic activity, and then some of those things will lead to that."

- Hawkes Bay Today

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 23 Dec 2014 12:54:07 Processing Time: 643ms