Tauranga's city centre is in a time of 'crisis' and in recent weeks, a large number of businesses have packed up and left, and others will soon be joining them. Remaining businesses are appealing for help while construction work continues around the city. Reporters Caroline Fleming and Kiri Gillespie explore exactly what some of these businesses are going through as two retailers moving out of the CBD share their stories.
At least 11 retailers have left Tauranga's city centre in the past month as business leaders plead for help to address a CBD "crisis".
One of those leaving has said his business has already done more trade in his first week after relocation than he had in months in the city centre.
The comments come as Downtown Tauranga spokeswoman Sally Cooke this week appealed to Tauranga City Council for $100,000 in funding for a 12-month pilot programme hoped to resuscitate some life back into the heart of the city.
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Cooke, who presented alongside Downtown Tauranga's chairman Brian Berry, told elected members the organisation's 650 members were facing "significant concerns" due to infrastructure changes in the city centre. Businesses needed urgent care and support but felt they had not received it, she said.
Foot traffic continued to decline and there was a public perception the city centre was dying, she said.
"We use the word crisis - and it is a crisis. We have members in our offices approaching us in tears under severe stress, etc. Please understand, this is not business as usual," she said.
"We can list over 11 businesses we've lost in just the last few weeks - 11 businesses since we were last here. We can't afford to lose any more."
Cooke referred to businesses in Durham St whose entrances were physically blocked off by construction fencing earlier this month. One of those businesses has moved to Pāpāmoa. Another has moved to Gate Pā.
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"Our voices have grown stronger and louder because of our city centre and the trouble it is in," Cooke said.
She proposed transforming empty shops and vacant spaces into vibrant, interactive areas. Such a move has already been done in other cities such as Hutt City and worked well, she said.
The idea was one of nine presented to the council to help bring people back to the city centre. Others included free buses and the return of the winter lights festival. The council agreed to consider this in more detail.
Berry said there was frustration at a lack of decision making and not providing certainty to the CBD.
"Everyone nods their heads; 'yes there's a problem but we are not committed to finding a resolution'."
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Now, fed-up retailers are moving on.
Daniel Wallace of Electrify NZ owner said the company relocated from Durham St to a new store in Pāpāmoa last Tuesday and had served 150 people since moving. At their previous location he served just three people a week.
"We had been pushed to the point where they had broken us," Wallace said.
Invasive roadworks have been taking place for the past 14 months in Durham St. Earlier this month, access to Electrify NZ was physically blocked off by construction fencing in one of several issues impacting businesses.
Wallace said he was counting foot traffic before leaving and his last Saturday on the street he saw one person walk past his store in five hours.
"Retailers rely on foot traffic... it is impossible to trade there [Durham St],"
Pāpāmoa Plaza had seen they were struggling and offered them a good rate for the shop for around two months, he said.
In June, the Bay of Plenty Times reported the half-complete Durham St upgrade's budget of $6.9 million was expected to blow out to $10.2m, blamed on unexpected underground issues and deficiencies in planning and design. The works were scheduled to be finished in October.
Eastern Hifi owner Graham Whitaker said Durham St was "broken" and he had no other choice than to pack up shop and leave.
The store had been offered a new space in the Gate Pā shopping centre.
Whitaker was furious to be told that the council was planning to start providing a "Durham St care package" for retailers as he said it was "17 months too late".
He said people's livelihoods were at stake, with employers trying to stay positive about the situation but being forced to let staff go.
"We have lost so much."
However, House of Travel owner Shane Kennedy did not believe the city centre was suffering from a lack of people.
Kennedy said his store had clicked over their 10,000th customer for 2019, which was up 18 per cent from the same time last year.
His said he remained "respectful of the challenges for some but excited about the future" and the investment in the area was "encouraging".
For the area to flourish, retailers and the council needed to work alongside one another, Kennedy said.
When questioned about retailers fleeing Durham St, Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said there was "no excuse for the delays" and the problems the construction had caused would change council projects going forward.
"I can't make any excuses for this... no one expected this to go on for this long."
Brownless said he would not approve council projects in the future unless he was certain of a finish date and that he could work closely with every person involved.
The only active council construction in the city centre currently was the Harington St Transport Hub and Durham St. The rest was private and out of council control, he said.
The council care package was prompted after Brownless met with Wallace to work out how the council could best help retailers.
At the council meeting this week, Brownless reminded Cooke and Berry the issues retailers faced also happened under the supervision of Downtown Tauranga.
A council spokeswoman said the Durham St care package reference was a proposal of media coverage for the businesses to support the members and profile their products.
The idea was to create and influence foot traffic on to the street and benefit the businesses.
The Durham St project started in June last year and although it was only supposed to last six months max, delays have meant it was now scheduled to be finished by spring this year.
It included 300m of streetscaping, including Durham Lane, to make it more pedestrian-friendly and renewing and upgrading underground services including sewer pipes.