Roads and footpaths closed. Fewer parks. Loud noises. Weird smells. Dust.

With downtown development ramping up rapidly, so too will the construction disruptions hitting Tauranga's CBD.

More than $250 million worth of new real estate is set to rise by 2021, including major developments widely expected to breathe new life, vibrancy and diversity into the CBD.

Water supply and wastewater systems have been assessed as able to cope, but retailers and hospitality business owners are a different story.

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Many are expecting tough times ahead, fearing already flagging foot counts will drop further as customers put the traffic cone-besieged CBD in the 'too hard' basket.

Major CBD developments underway or starting soon. Graphic/Bay of Plenty Times Photos/supplied
Major CBD developments underway or starting soon. Graphic/Bay of Plenty Times Photos/supplied

Council: CBD is still open for buisness

The Tauranga City Council is in the early stages of developing a response plan to minimise day-to-day disruptions and create incentives for people to visit the CBD.

Leading that effort is the council's city centre manager, James Woodward.

He says that in five years' time the CBD - current population around 2250 - will be "buzzing".

With more businesses shifting downtown, 1000 students starting at the new University of Waikato campus in Durham St in February, and enough apartments for another 300 or so residents being built, the demographic profile will be more diverse.

"I think will be a pretty cool place," Woodward said.

In the meantime, however, disruptions were a certainty. Roads had to be closed so cranes could come in, or so construction sites could be safe, he said.

"The key is to manage it in a strategic way."

Tauranga City Council's city centre manager James Woodward and city transformation committee chairman Larry Baldock. Photo/George Novak
Tauranga City Council's city centre manager James Woodward and city transformation committee chairman Larry Baldock. Photo/George Novak

Last week Woodward led an unusually lively workshop with the city's elected members, seeking their feedback on what the council could do to help the CBD through the most intense phases of construction.

It was an opportunity for the council to "show real leadership", he said, as well as change people's behaviour and encourage alternative forms of transport.

Roof shouts and rates rebates, free buses and festivals, parades and public art were among the ideas pitched during the brainstorming session.

Woodward says the council is already monitoring construction schedules and road closures to ensure pedestrians and drivers can move around the city without hitting dead ends.

It's also focusing on communication - both for its own projects and encouraging contractors working on private projects to talk to each other about what's coming up, as well as to residents and businesses impacted by the work.

Woodward says council staff have been talking to counterparts in growing Auckland and earthquake-recovering Christchurch to learn from their experiences with handling construction disruptions.

The main message for wider Tauranga right now, Woodward says, is that the CBD remains "open for business".

"Come in and check out what's going on."

By the numbers
Between now and 2021, Tauranga's CBD will become home to at least:

- $250 million in construction, another $60+ million planned
- 100 new apartments
- 50 hotel rooms
- 16,000sq m office space
- 700 new carparks.

Hospitality: short-term worries, long-term hope

At the workshop, councillors were shown a picture of Devonport Rd's One Tree Bakery overflowing with workers in hi-vis gear enjoying a meal break.

It was presented lightly as an example of a positive effect of an influx of construction workers to the CBD.

But there's more to the story.

Bakery owner Usa Ayucharoen says that, while the store has been busier than expected this winter thanks in part to construction-worker custom, business has generally been slowing since it opened its doors last year. It lost regulars when nearby shops closed and businesses moved.

"Town has been quiet," she says.

Ayucharoen says she is unsure about the future but is confident the business would get through it, and hoped developments like Farmers and the new library would bring more people into the CBD.

Drydock Cafe owner Sandra Johnson is worried about the years ahead, but optimistic about the long-term future of the CBD. Photo/Andrew Warner
Drydock Cafe owner Sandra Johnson is worried about the years ahead, but optimistic about the long-term future of the CBD. Photo/Andrew Warner

Sandra Johnson, the owner of Drydock Cafe, says the transformation of Wharf St will be the most challenging time for her business.

As the council's proposal stands at the concept design stage, the street between Willow St and The Strand will be turned into a pedestrian mall with a dining precinct à la Rotorua's Eat Street.

The concept will go to the council for approval later this year.

Johnson supports the plan and says the council has been keeping her well informed, but she is still worried.

"If they keep to the schedule it should be fine. We'll be trying to maintain our business and keep producing a great product. But it will be challenging."

She is already noticing the effects of construction around the CBD.

"I have had customers come in frustrated with the road closures. People have thought twice about coming in because they can't get a carpark."

The business is sustained by its regulars, most of whom work nearby in the CBD and do not have to hunt for parks to visit.

She is not sure how much the council could do to make the situation easier for businesses.

"This is just something we're going to have to work through. I think every business in the CBD will face similar challenges.

"Retail is already affected – look at all the empty shops in the last couple of years.

"But I am all for it if it's going to bring more people to town - that's a great thing."

Retailer closes doors: 'We can't hold on'

Elena Lukasheva, manager of Devonport Rd store Ebony, which is closing down after six years of flagging sales. Photo/George Novak
Elena Lukasheva, manager of Devonport Rd store Ebony, which is closing down after six years of flagging sales. Photo/George Novak

Not everyone is willing or able to keep the faith and try to outlast the construction disruption.

After a decade at 13 Devonport Rd, Ebony Boutique is in the process of closing its doors for good.

Owner Ebony Hessey says the location used to be the seven-store chain's top performer, but over time it has become the worst.

"Over the last six years, there has been a steady decline in foot traffic in the area."

It all started when the council put in paid parking metres, she says.

The situation worsened when waterfront carparking was turned into green space and playgrounds, then when Trustpower moved in and CBD carparking buildings filled up, she says.

"People just couldn't find a park. Even we found ourselves circling the block for 15 minutes. Customers were just not willing to do that."

Profits dropped so much that three years ago they went from having two staff members on the floor per shift to one.

Then came big construction projects in the CBD: More roads closed, more parks lost.

Homelessness and begging is also an issue, with staff having to move doorway sleepers on many mornings.

"Who wants to go into a shop with a homeless person in the doorway?"

With such a large drop in foot traffic and so much more construction on the horizon – including the possibility of work on their building involving scaffolding that would obscure their frontage – the closing down sale was only a matter of time.

Hessey says it is not just her business: There are several empty stores for lease in the area. She has heard other businesses may close or drop staff due to flagging sales.

"There have been a lot of promises for a number of years about how the CBD is going to be revived and how they're going to sort out the parking and there's been nothing.

"It's been six years of holding on and hoping. We can't wait any longer."

Councillor Terry Molloy is worried other businesses will go the same way as Ebony as the city surfs the wave of development.

"A significant sector of our business community is in danger of slipping off the back of the wave," says Molloy, who has controversially pushed for CBD parking reforms and a bylaw banning begging and rough sleeping near shops in response to retailers' concerns.

Molloy says that if the council is willing to go to great lengths to help establish the university campus or make concessions for an international hotel, it could not forget small businesses.

"We need to act."

Professionals moving back to CBD

Science and engineering consulting firm Tonkin and Taylor will move about 40 staff back into the CBD in September.

Spokeswoman Andi Brotherston says the company moved out to Cameron Rd a few years ago when their CBD building needed earthquake strengthening.

Having now outgrown the Cameron Rd office, the company has leased a building in Devonport Rd and began an interior refit this week.

She says the move is "absolutely" a vote of confidence for the CBD.

"Logistically it makes sense for us as we will be closer to a lot of our clients," Brotherston said. "We're really excited to be moving back."

Ben Ruth and Matt Beattie at the development site of 51 The Strand in January. Photo/John Borren
Ben Ruth and Matt Beattie at the development site of 51 The Strand in January. Photo/John Borren

Ben Ruth is one of the developers behind a four-storey office block building at 51 The Strand, as well as a Tauranga resident and CBD worker.

He says the excitement of being part of a historic period of change in the city is felt by everyone involved in the project.

Ruth, an insurance broker for Finacial Independence, says Tauranga's population growth is the main factor behind the decision to invest in a CBD building.

He has noticed a trend of businesses basing themselves in the Tauranga CBD even though most of their clients are located elsewhere, and feels the city is ideally set up for that technology-supported style of work.

While Tauranga had an advantage over gridlocked Auckland now, he wants to see long-term investment in transport infrastructure including technology-based ride sharing and better cycling routes.

The company is installing showers on every office floor to make walking, running and biking more practical options for its staff, Ruth says.

Commuter rail is another option he would like to see explored.

"I'm sitting here [on The Strand] looking at a railway line that's not in use. The ability to use infrastructure in a smarter way might make the CBD more viable in the future."

Growth showing no signs of slowing

Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt says all the economic signs are pointing to a period of growth in the CBD that will last more than a few years.

"I cant see growth slowing down in the medium term," he says. "Once the first lot is done we will see more and more. There is real momentum.

"We will see more head offices and branch offices of professional companies basing themselves here. We are already seeing that now."

An Infometrics report released in March showed the GDP of Tauranga's CBD jumped $87 million in 2017 to reach a value of $1.2 billion.

The report also showed corporate-type industries had the fastest growth, with professional, scientific and technical services leading the way with a 7.4 per cent jump, and adding 157 jobs in the year, and increasing its share of GDP contribution by $14.8m to $215.1m.

Tauranga has been one of New Zealand's strongest growth regions for the past five years, Tutt says.

"People know and trust that strong economy and where that happens, money follows."