"Thank god it's over". This is one retailer's reaction to the reopening of a 300m stretch of road in central Tauranga after a 16-month closure to upgrade Durham St and Durham Lane. The $10.2m project is almost finished much to the relief of some businesses who have struggled with flagging foot traffic and customer complaints about roadworks. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Samantha Motion reports.
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The $10.2m Tauranga City Council project to transform Durham St and Durham Lane is almost done - after 16 disruptive months.
It is a relief for the businesses that stuck it out, but for others, the end of the delay-plagued roadworks came too late.
The 300m stretch between Elizabeth to Spring streets is now fully open, with wider footpaths and new trees, gardens and seating - and not a road cone in sight.
"Thank god it's over," said Peter Dromgool from Smiths Motorcycles in Durham St.
"Hopefully people will start coming back again now."
In May, he was among the first business owners in the street to highlight the struggle many faced with flagging foot traffic and customers complaining about the roadworks.
Work started in June 2018 after a fast-tracked planning process.
Construction was expected to take about a year, but the council blamed a series of unexpected issues - archaeological finds, poor ground conditions, ageing pipes out of place and in need of replacing - for delays and cost overruns.
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In June, the council added $3.3m to the original $6.9m budget that included $500,000 from the NZ Transport Agency.
The final project cost was not yet known, but the council said it was tracking within the $10.2m budget.
On top of that, the council said yesterday it paid $24,268 in total rates remissions to five affected businesses.
Dromgool said his business had some rates relief but it would still take "years" to make back the losses.
He was generally happy with the final look of Durham St, with the exception of the new bus stop outside his shop where there used to be car parks and a motorbike park.
Beaurepaires manager Craig Perry and The Property Group consultant Phil Pennycuick also liked the final look.
"I think they have done a pretty good job," Perry said.
In Perry's opinion, the council should be more mindful in the future about having multiple disruptive projects in the CBD at once. For example, streetscaping in Elizabeth St should happen after the Farmers redevelopment.
Gengys owner Danier Lee said the construction period had been hard for the restaurant, but things were improving now.
In a written statement, University of Waikato senior deputy Vice-Chancellor Alistair Jones said the end of the project was a "significant milestone".
"Tauranga City Council has transformed the street and enhanced the campus environment, ensuring an easy connection between students and community."
He thanked everyone for their work and patience with the challenges of two major projects - the campus build and streetscaping - happening at the same time.
But not all businesses managed to hang on.
Electrify NZ moved to Pāpāmoa Plaza and Eastern Hi Fi relocated to the Gate Pā shopping centre a few months ago.
Eastern Hi-Fi owner Graham Whitaker said he was happy with his decision to ditch Durham St.
"I've got no regrets at all. None."
He said the losses to his business during the roadworks were "significant" but the business now had "a really fair chance of rebuilding what we lost".
Dan Wallace of Electrify NZ said the roadworks "just destroyed us, basically".
"We had to move otherwise we would have been bankrupt."
He was paying two leases but doubted his business would come back to the CBD in any permanent way for at least the next five months.
He hoped to find a use for the Durham St space to support his customers on the other side of the bridge, and said he would be monitoring the foot traffic.
Mainstreet Downtown Tauranga spokeswoman Sally Cooke said it was good to see the project completed but it had been hard for businesses.
She hoped the council would take lessons from the project about the importance of communication and collaboration with Mainstreet organisations and businesses.
She also wanted to see the council backing initiatives to bring people back to the CBD.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the businesses who struggled needed to be recognised, along with the contractors who worked on the project.
He said the new council would be better at engaging with businesses - consulting widely, taking on board opinions and ideas, keeping up constant communication and facing up to problems quickly and in person.
Powell said he supported Downtown Tauranga's plans to activate the CBD, but any council funding or support for initiatives would need to be discussed with the full council.
A council spokeswoman said the council was putting the final touches on Durham St this week and was planning an official opening on November 22 to thank people for their patience and understanding during the works.