In a Christmas gift to the people of Rotorua, councillors have voted to provide free parking in the CBD for the 12 days leading up to Christmas.
This followed a heated meeting last Monday between the Rotorua District Council's Economic & Regulatory Services team and central city retailers.
Originally set up to discuss the proposed district plan, retailers quickly turned discussion to the matter of parking and were clearly united in their dissatisfaction. It is a credit then to the economic team that they took this all on board and went away and did something about it. On Thursday councillors voted unanimously to grant this temporary measure.
It is great to see something positive being done to promote the CBD. After all, it is an important but much neglected part of Rotorua's economy. The CBD is one of our biggest employers, most of the businesses keep their profits in Rotorua and it is the largest source of employment for unskilled workers. This is a powerful combination and now that unemployment for 18- to 24-year-olds has tripled since 2008, it is more important than ever to support the CBD.
Growing a place like Rotorua can be like filling up a bucket with a hole in it. Money comes in and money goes out.
There are five key industries contributing to Rotorua's economy. These are forestry, wood processing, tourism, geothermal and agriculture. Together they bring many hundreds of millions of dollars each year into the local economy. The question is then what happens to this money.
This is where retail is so important. Retail patches up the hole in the bucket and keeps money in the local economy. Every time people go to another city or shop online, money is lost to Rotorua. We want to be able to make sure the money earned in Rotorua is spent in Rotorua because by doing this we multiply the effects. It is even better if it is spent in the central city because the CBD is dominated by locally owned, independent retailers who support diversification, keep profits local and add character to this tourist town.
This cannot be done by coercion, however. People have to want to spend their money in the CBD. This means creating a vibrant city centre and a competitive shopping environment. Since the economic crisis, people have
changed the way they shop. Shoppers spend more time researching and this means retailers have to be savvy and light on their feet. It is a different world we live in.
Let's be honest. Retail is never going to be a big earner. It is never going to make more money than tourism, forestry or agriculture. But what retail can do is be the glue that holds these industries together and keeps the money in the local economy. That is why we were so pleased to hear about this parking trial and fully support future endeavours to make Rotorua more competitive.
_ Fraser Newman is the manager of McLeods Booksellers in Rotorua.