Tauranga's once-thriving CBD is now dealing with a transition period which has left the city centre in what has been described as the worst state it has ever been in.
A lack of parking, constant construction and success of malls and shopping centres in other parts of the city have all been highlighted as contributing factors to its current lacklustre state, leaving minimal foot traffic and dozens of for lease signs scattered throughout.
Despite the less than vibrant CBD, Tauranga's business owners and officials say they feel positive about the future of the city centre, it's just in a transitional period that doesn't have an end-date in sight.
They say they are confident the CBD will flourish again - but possibly in a different capacity.
Ruth Selby, a Tauranga commercial property landlord, said she remembered Devonport Rd and Tauranga's CBD in its prime - shops were everywhere with loads of foot traffic all day long.
The CBD's current state, however, is in stark contrast, with empty shopfronts and for lease signs prominent fixtures throughout, particularly along Devonport Rd.
The Bay of Plenty Times counted 35 empty shops along Devonport Rd to Elizabeth St, including eight in the once-popular, now for sale Goddards Centre. Another five shopfronts along the same stretch of road are being used for, or are currently empty but earmarked for the Activate Vacant Spaces programme.
The programme aims to fill the CBD's empty spaces with creative projects to bring people into town and create a vibrant city centre.
Elizabeth St is also seeing businesses evacuate with three empty ground-floor shopfronts, including Coffee Club, and for lease signs on at least two, second level buildings.
Selby has a long connection to Tauranga's CBD, with her father building on vacant land on Devonport Rd about 50 years ago. She has managed it since the 1990s, now co-owning 74, 76, 78 Devonport Rd with her husband Mike Maulder.
"We've been on the street for a long time," Selby said.
She has seen Devonport Rd in its prime but the last two years had been the "toughest".
"It's the toughest that I've known. It's a sad time because I've known it when it was in its heyday."
Two of her three shopfronts are tenanted and she said landlords were most worried about lease renewals.
In the past Selby has had national chain stores as tenants but she said, "when times get tough it's the local tenants who'll stick it out and stay".
She knows things are tough for businesses too, with many hanging out for Farmers to reopen next year to boost foot traffic in the area - but she wasn't convinced that was the be-all and end-all.
"I think it's going to take a lot more than that."
She highlighted the lack of parking near shops and the constant construction along the street as some reasons behind the tough reality.
She said with the earthquake strengthening of buildings and the street disruption, she understood why the CBD was struggling.
"Retailers are worried about road closures.
"It's tough enough for them with online shopping and lockdown."
Although Selby said Devonport Rd's current state was the worst she'd seen it, she had "faith in the street" and "our tenants have faith in the street".
"It's unknown what's going to happen, we're still here and we'll be here."
She was positive about the future of the CBD and had no doubt it would once again be a "healthy, vibrant city" - but she couldn't say when.
"Things go up and down all the time, Tauranga as a city will take off, it's got such a lot going for it."
She said the comeback "might be in a different form" such as offices and apartments.
"The life of the city has to change from time to time.
"Tauranga is a great place and I'm sure the street will evolve."
Tauranga City Council's general manager strategy and growth Christine Jones said the city centre was transitioning from a traditional retail centre to a more mixed-use centre incorporating commercial, community, cultural, residential and retail services.
"It's not an easy transition, although in the long term it's an exciting one," Jones said.
She said parking spaces "very close to shops would always be limited" but there were plans to develop a city centre parking area plan in 2021.
She said construction in the CBD meant "things are happening" but the transition has been complicated by growth and success of other centres, online shopping, redeveloping earthquake-prone buildings and of course, Covid-19.
She said Farmers reopening next year would have "a positive effect on retail" in the CBD, also providing housing and additional parking.
"More people living in the city centre will be a key part of its future."
Victoria Thomas, who owns Pluto Juice Bar, Deli and Catering on Devonport Rd, said she was "hanging in there" with no intention of abandoning the CBD.
She said the majority of her customers were corporates, but there were "big gaps in our day when we don't get a lot of foot traffic".
When she took over the business in 2015 "Trustpower was being built" and talk of the Waikato University development signalled confidence in being able to operate a successful business in the CBD.
However, as new businesses and organisations came in, more were leaving the CBD, she said.
"It is actually really sad. This place is so beautiful.
"Just from a personal point of view, it's quite bewildering how the CBD got to that point."
Despite uncertainties, she is "positive about the CBD".
"I still feel like there's a place for our CBD," Thomas said.
Sally Cooke, from Downtown Tauranga, said their core focus was "contributing to the resurgence of a city centre" and while there was a lot of positive work being done in the CBD, local support was needed.
"Everyone has gone through and is going through challenging times in the city centre."
One of the projects Downtown Tauranga has introduced to draw people back to the CBD is the Activate Vacant Spaces programme, filling empty spaces with projects such as art installations, displays, events, interactive experiences, art, culture, heritage, music, performances, pop-ups and more.
"It's all about increasing the offerings of the city centre."
Tauranga's Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the CBD was "going through change" amplified by Covid-19 - but would flourish once again.
He said just like all New Zealand CBDs, Tauranga's struggled with fewer people in the streets since the pandemic, particularly impacting " round floor tenants reliant on foot traffic".
He was confident in Tauranga's CBD - but uncertain of when situations would change.
"Grey St was similar to Devonport Rd in 2013 and it is now flourishing. Devonport Rd will come back strong, but nobody knows how long it will take," he said.
He said more residential spaces and the opening of the Farmers development would transform the CBD to a "desirable place to live, work and play" and "a shopping destination where people travel" for.
He said inner-city living apartments planned would "make the CBD more than just a 9-5 destination".
Overall, Cowley said CBD business owners predominantly supported future plans "but ground floor tenants are worried their immediate survival in the meantime".
He said the CBD's biggest shoppers were those who also worked there but many worked from home as all-day parking was limited and "public transport is not yet convenient or reliable".
Brett Nicholls, spokesman for Elizabeth Properties Limited, part of the James Pascoe Group that owns Farmers, said their development with 97 apartments, 23 townhouses and 8000m of retail, cafes and restaurants was "bound to bring new life and people to the CBD".
He said the development was on track to open in 2021 and was excited for "revitalisation" and "the vibrancy" it would bring to downtown Tauranga.