A decrease in the number of vacant shops in the CBD over the past two years is being called an encouraging sign, but city leaders say there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Rotorua Daily Post has regularly surveyed the area bordered by Fenton, Arawa, Amohia and Amohau Sts (inclusive), counting the vacant shops. In May 2009, there were 50. By September 2013 that had risen to 98 including the units in the arcade under the Royal Court.
Around this time the Inner City Focus Group was formed, part of a renewed push to revitalise the inner city. That included Scrub Rotorua Days where retailers were encouraged to clean up their shop fronts and broken lighting around the city was fixed.
Since the last local election in October 2013 there have also been a number of controversial changes to the inner city including the demolition of the City Focus, the creation of the Green Corridor, parking changes, plus installation of artworks, changes to intersections and seating.
This week, our count revealed 61 empty shops plus 17 in the arcade for a total of 78 - 20 less than in September 2013.Revitalisation a priority
Mayor Steve Chadwick said revitalising the inner city was highlighted as a priority by Rotorua people and the inner city certainly looked and felt like a different place now than in 2013.
"Retailers and businesses come and go for various reasons but 20 fewer empty shops shows we're making progress.
"Meanwhile, tourism operators continue to remind us that inner city revitalisation remains one of the most important things for us to continue.
"Success is the inner city becoming a destination in its own right, a destination of choice for both locals and visitors. We're on the right track but the good work needs to continue.
"We want vibrancy in the inner city but does that have to mean just shops? What other uses and other ways can we attract people here? Could it be inner city living? What other ideas and plans do inner city landlords have? These are the challenges we face.
"We're not finished yet - there's more to be done and we'll continue to work with our inner city representatives and other stakeholders to identify and work through opportunities," Mrs Chadwick said.
Rotorua Lakes Council inner city portfolio leader and councillor Karen Hunt said there was continued interest in the CBD.
"People are finding it a far more active place and 'like is acting like', for example there is Hobbiton and Peter Pan and the likes of, popping up around each other [on Fenton St]."Encouraging signs
She said that gave people confidence and that the council was looking at how the city worked in order to improve it.
"The places we have put effort into have all improved, such as Eat Streat and the Night Market. We are working through it stage by stage."
Inner City Focus Group spokesman Mike Steiner said he thought the CBD was excellent.
"Twenty shops is a significant percentage. We have lost some businesses as well but, I'm really pleased, I think it's an encouraging sign.
"Locals and visitors' response to Rotorua is amazing." He said people from outside were willing to come here now.
"We are no greater or more beautiful than we were three years ago when people from out of town would say we were smelly, but now there is a population increase.
"I think it's important to get the plans for the City Focus finished and once that is done everything will pinch off from there."
Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers group chairwoman and outgoing district councillor Glenys Searancke said having fewer empty shops was a good sign, but it was not due to anything the council had implemented.
"It's a natural part of a more encouraging economic climate. I don't think it has anything to do with the new parking regime or anything the council has done. I hope it does get better, but Hinemoa St is still pretty empty due to a lack of parking on one side of the street because of the Green Corridor. Anyone moving in there will struggle," she said.
Mark Rendell from Bayleys Real Estate said his firm was still getting inquiries about office space especially with the Zen building (Arawa St) becoming vacant.
"There is still a shortage of office space that has quality car parking." He said there had been a little bit of interest in retail.
"There's lots of people coming and looking and saying it's quite vibrant.
"Some of the retail has moved into the Central Mall, that's close enough to our CBD."
He said demolition work was underway and they had already found three tenants for Whakaue St's Lakesyde Business Centre, due to be completed in October.
Mr Rendell said surf store Addiction from Taupo, which opened a store on Tutanekai St, was one example of a success story in the CBD.
"They are doing really well and glad they made the move, so we just need more stories like that to attract more people to come in."
Addiction owners Kelvin and Pauline Clark said they had seen an opening in Rotorua and decided they would "jump in".
"The locals have been great, they want their CBD back and you can see them working for it.
"We have been here 16 months, it's getting there, we are where we need to be, more and more people know that they have shops in town now," Mr Clark said.
He would encourage other businesses to come to Rotorua because everyone had a point of difference to offer.
"We need longer lasting good quality businesses, it would be good to see more footwear and boutique shops like nice men's clothes, also a small Hammer Hardware-type store in town would be good so we don't have to go to the big stores."
However Me and Moo Moo owner Debra Sherwood, said she was closing down her Eruera St shop because it didn't get enough foot fall.
Ms Sherwood blamed that on problems with parking.
"People who work in the CBD take up all the parks because they only have to move their cars four times a day."
She said the new parking rules, due to be implemented later this month, wouldn't change much. She said in her view if the council wanted to see the CBD active free parking should be limited to 30 minutes.
-Based on appearance. Central Mall not included in survey.