Mega mall looms over retailers

By Anne Gibson

At the foot of Hamlins Hill, armies of cranes and diggers, 100 trucks and 600 builders are working at break-neck pace to meet a deadline still two months off.

In an area of post-industrial Mt Wellington which once housed rows of Army sheds, provisions are being made for a new war: the battle for a slice of Auckland's $8 billion shopping spend.

"June 8 is sending cold shivers down Newmarket's spine," says Newmarket Business Association general manager Cameron Brewer as he gazes across town towards this new nemesis straddling the Southern Motorway/Southeastern Highway junction.

He is referring to the giant new retailing hub alongside the Southern Motorway which will progressively open in monstrous 50-shop blocks during the next few years, gulping in consumers and potentially draining Newmarket of its retailing lifeblood.

Brewer is less worried about established suburban shopping areas such as Queen St, Pakuranga or St Lukes than he is about the 24ha, $538 million Sylvia Park at Mt Wellington, where strips of new shops and giant anchor tenants in big-format areas will soon fling open their doors.

But Brewer reckons Sylvia Park will burn bright but short. Rubber-neckers will quickly tire of it and return to areas such as Newmarket.

"People will go to Sylvia Park once, buy their coffees, do their shopping but find there's nothing to draw them back again because those shoppers already have the big-format retailers in their own suburbs," Brewer says.

He cites a string of major new developments which will soon bolster Broadway and its allies.

These include Westfield, about to double the size of its mall in Newmarket, L&Y Holdings' $150 million apartment/shopping complex now rising on former railway land behind Broadway's shops, and the expansion of Smith & Caughey's Broadway store.

These and other developments should add about another 200 shops to Newmarket shortly, Brewer says.

Over on Queen St, shops catering to Auckland's inner-city-dwelling Asians proliferate. Diminutive shoes, skirts, frocks, shirts and pants pitch these outlets towards one sector, a trend which Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney cites as a "market response".

Queen St's Strand Arcade, just down from Smith & Caughey, has become almost entirely a specialist Asian retailing zone. So have vast unpopulated tracts of shiny but empty retail areas upstairs in the nearby Atrium on Elliott.

But Swney is less worried by this trend to cater for more Asian shoppers than he is by the explosion of suburban malls offering an ever-growing number of shops in the midst of hometown heartlands, all with free parking.

As for Newmarket, he believes Queen St is far more successful and that Newmarket is far less a threat than the city's CBD thoroughfare being mauled by mega-malls.

Brewer and Swney might fight almost daily for publicity, but in reality the two appear to have a common enemy in large-scale suburban malls.

Swney believes Queen St will never fall from its perch as a top shopping destination.

"We've got an enormous captive market in the CBD with 70,000 workers and 70,000 tertiary students here at Auckland University and AUT. Our pedestrian counts are eight times higher than Newmarket's. We've already got an inner-city population of 20,000 people.

"But the real threat for us is the success of the suburban shopping mall because they are a disincentive for people to travel into the CBD and there's a basic inequality with not having to pay for parking in the malls."

He is dismissive of Newmarket as a threat. "Would a Louis Vuitton or Tiffanys go there? The answer is no, only after they have a beachhead in Queen St will they go somewhere like Newmarket."

Newmarket should feel more threatened by Westfield's expansion in its midst, Swney warns, because doubling the size of 277 will steal shoppers from Broadway and its surrounding streets.

Swney cites United States data showing that Americans are rejecting malls as "the new slums, places where kids are buying drugs".

They are instead turning back to strip shopping for an outdoor social experience, "one where you'll feel the snowflakes on your face", Swney says.

Now, he believes, United States shoppers' choice is between strip shopping and buying online.

Swney cites the CBD's shopping expansion opportunities such as Bluewater's $350 million Britomart project, the historic building refurbishment that will bring more shops, restaurants and cafes to the city's heart, and the development of the Tank Farm during the next two decades.

The CBD will also expand towards the waterfront, particularly the Viaduct Basin area.

So are Swney and Brewer competing directly for the shoppers' dollars?

Both say it was Swney who recommended the outspoken Brewer for the job and that men both feel far more threatened by other foes than each other.

Newmarket
Annual retail sales: around $500 million.
Logo: "One place fits all".
Advocate: Newmarket Business Association.
Association's annual promotional budget: $750,000.
General manager: Cameron Brewer.
Threats: Sylvia Park, other suburbs, lack of infrastructure, bad footpaths.
Growth opportunities: Surrounding streets, mall intensification.
Westfield's 277 Centre 2005 retail sales: $120 million.
Web: www.newmarket.net.nz

Queen Street
Annual retail sales: around $1.3 billion.
Advocate: Heart of the City.
Chief executive: Alex Swney.
Annual budget: $2.25 million.
Threats: Suburban malls, expensive parking, clogged motorways.
Growth opportunities: Britomart, waterfront, Viaduct Basin, Tank Farm.
Westfield's Downtown 2005 retail sales: $56.9 million.

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