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An exodus of national retail brands from Tauranga's Devonport Rd has added to the dozens of empty shopfronts plaguing the city centre.
A city leader has attributed the "demise" of the CBD to past planning decisions, while retailers and their representatives have asked for help to bring people back to a CBD "in crisis".
As you walk along Devonport Rd, For Lease signs take up space in the windows of many of the vacant shops. Between Elizabeth St and The Strand, the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend counted 29 empty shops and 51 businesses still operating.
The Goddards Shopping Centre, an arcade between Devonport Rd and Grey St, has over the years gone from a lively thoroughfare to having minimal foot traffic with all but a handful of businesses gone.
Downtown Tauranga has named six brands that have closed - or will soon close - their CBD stores since the move to level 1.
Chairman Brian Berry told a Tauranga City Council meeting on Thursday the city centre was "in crisis".
He said Michael Hill Jewellers and Just Jeans from Devonport Rd; Moochi, at the Devonport Rd side of the Goddards centre; and Annah Stretton on Grey St had left.
Hallenstein Brothers and Glassons, located at the Devonport Rd end of the Goddards centre, would be gone by the end of the month, he said.
Yesterday, staff at Hallenstein Brothers were putting "End of Lease" sale stickers in their shop window.
The Bay of Plenty Times sought comment from Hallensteins Glassons Holdings, the company that owns both brands.
Tough times for the CBD in recent years have been put down to a variety of factors, including - but not limited to - construction disruption, the rise of online shopping, a lack of parking, competition from ever-expanding malls and, most recently, Covid-19.
During a discussion about the future of the CBD in a public meeting on Tuesday, council chief executive Marty Grenfell advanced his own theory.
In his view, the Tauranga City Plan was in part to blame for the current situation as it had allowed a long ribbon of commercial and light industrial development stretching up Cameron Rd, rather than condensing it around the central area, he said.
"Planning that allowed that years or decades ago has been at the demise of what I would call a thriving CBD," he said.
Asked how CBD business owners were feeling, he said the situation was "very, very sad".
"You only need to walk down Devonport Rd and half the shops are empty. The offering outside CBD continues to get better and better at the demise of the CBD."
Grenfell, who recently met with developers considering investing in the CBD, said it was time to "rethink what this geographical area means to the Bay of Plenty" and what should occupy it.
The City Plan is due to be reviewed in 2023/24, while developing a 10-year plan for the CBD will be on the council agenda as it prepares its Long-Term Plan for 2021-31.
Lynette Brown, manager of Step Inn Shoes at the Grey St end of the Goddards centre, told the Bay of Plenty Times things had changed a lot in the 20 years she had been there, and even in the past six months.
"You walk through here and it's dead," Brown said.
She put down the closure of long-time CBD stores to mall competition, cheaper rents being offered elsewhere and Covid-19.
Julie Hammon from Hammon Diamond Jeweller said she was glad she was on the Grey St end of the Goddards centre because there were still a lot of shops open for business in the area.
Devonport Rd, however, was "a sad state of affairs".
"It's very sad to see, especially to lose such an iconic place like Moochi. This was their flagship store."
Hammon said she was "totally committed to the CBD" and had no plans to relocate because the vibe of a CBD suited the business better than a mall.
She expected a lot more people in town when the Farmers redevelopment was completed, which she also believed could attract more businesses back to the area.
Until then, she said a quiet CBD was "something we're just learning to live with".
In Devonport Rd a retail store staff member who did not want to be named said a lot of customers complained about the lack of parking and having to pay for it.
Heather Chander, who owns Indelible in Devonport Rd, said she had been in retail since she was 15 and loved it even more now nearly 60 years later.
Although there were a lot of empty shops along the road and it was "not like it used to be", Chander was positive about the future.
"I love the CBD, I've been in the CBD 33 years," Chander said.
"I'm by no means unhappy," she said.
Ray White Commercial Tauranga owner Philip Hunt, whose expertise is in commercial and development properties, said the CBD needed more offices.
Doing this would create a livelier CBD with foot traffic that would support the downtown retailers, he said.
But with a lack of parking available for businesses, the area was not in high demand, he said.
Brian Berry is the chairman of Downtown Tauranga as well as the property manager of the Goddards centre.
He said he planned to repurpose the centre but it was too early to reveal what that would include.
In terms of the CBD, he believed there would be a lot more opportunities for retailers once the Farmers development was complete, as well as more inner-city dwellings that would bring in more people.
Until then, things needed to be done to help revitalise the town centre, like offering two to three hours of free parking, and supporting the Activate Vacant Spaces programme to liven up empty stores and shopfronts, he said.
Downtown Tauranga has asked the council for $100,000 in its 2020/21 Annual Plan to extend the Activate programme, as well as financial support for a free shuttle to the CBD for cruise ship passengers.
It has also asked the council to look again at introducing time-limited free parking.