Mayor calls CBD an 'embarrassment'

By Alexandra Newlove

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"For lease" signs have come to characterise Whangarei's inner city. Photo / Michael Cunningham
"For lease" signs have come to characterise Whangarei's inner city. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Whangarei's mayor has described the city's CBD as "an embarrassment" and says some landlords need to "pull their socks up" and stop relying entirely on the council to make the city thrive.

Mayor Sheryl Mai was fired up over comments in Tuesday's Northern Advocate from two commercial real estate specialists, who described some councillors as having "no business acumen whatsoever".

"Yes we've got work to do in the CBD but there are things this council can do and there are things this council cannot and should not do," Ms Mai told yesterday's 20/20 Inner City Revitalisation Committee meeting.

"We've got people who own businesses and property who are, quite frankly, lazy. They're not cleaning their buildings, they're not getting out there and [negotiating] long-term leases. This is a partnership."

The estate agents put the failure of a council process attempting to partner with potential CBD developers down to frustration with the city's leadership.

WDC put out the call for Expressions of Interest late last year and had no suitable responses.

Harcourts' Peter Peeters described the city as "staggering and stuck". "Private enterprise is just shaking their head," he said.

Ms Mai said the CBD was "an embarrassment".

"It's dirty. It's got empty buildings. It's got businesses closing."

But, she said people were indeed partnering with the council and pointed to the business people who were using the new Cameron St laneway to put on free concerts on Friday nights.

"We can do the blank canvas but it's up to our community to paint the colour and add to the experience ...

"We've still got some tough calls to make but we are investing in the right areas. We will get that heart beating in the CBD, but by crikey, there are some people in the community that need to pull their socks up."

The meeting also considered more than 1000 pieces of public feedback WDC had received on its 20/20 Momentum vision document, as well as two community-led art and education projects.

Off the back of the zero expressions of interest, councillors toyed with the idea of hiring specialist consultants at a cost of $90,000 to better understand the CBD, including its market rentals and the impact online shopping was having on retailers. Councillor Brian McLachlan was against this.

"We've got experts right here in this town and we're ignoring them," he said. "We've got real estate agents all saying the same thing, shouldn't we be listening? Same with our landowners."

20/20 committee chairman Phil Halse instead moved that the council conduct a planning session with all councillors and report back to its full April meeting.

"We want to involve our local people. When you get buy-in, people back you," he said. He warned councillors not to over-congratulate themselves on the success of current projects and "keep [their] feet on the ground".

- Northern Advocate

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