A "surge" of new businesses moving into Tauranga's CBD is giving the city centre renewed energy, experts say.
But a commercial real estate director says while ground-floor retail is looking less empty, it won't be until the first-floor offices are filled that the CBD will thrive.
Manager of Mainstreet organisation Downtown Tauranga, Millie Pidwell, said the number of new businesses opening in the city centre created a "growing sense of strong optimism and positivity".
"We are starting to see a renewed energy, vitality and surge of activity across new businesses and initiatives in the city centre.
"With the soon-to-be-opened Farmers development, the resurgence of Red Square as a community hub, the relocation and development of the library, customer service centre and heritage centre in the Goddards centre, we will see a significant transformation of the city centre."
In 2019, Downtown Tauranga received $120,000 from the Tauranga City Council and economic development organisation Priority One to fund a six-month Activate Vacant Spaces programme.
The programme, which launched in February 2020, allowed business owners to hire a vacant CBD space for exhibitions, displays, events, pop-up shops, performances and more for a couple of days, a week or up to a month.
In April 2019, before Activate Vacant Spaces started, the city centre had 281 empty sites.
There were now 166.
"We continue to get weekly requests for new initiatives, events and activations to come into the city centre ...
"We were able to bring over 30 events and initiatives into vacant spaces in the city centre and secured some long-term tenancies including the Ceramics Gallery, Classic Couture and The Boho Store."
The organisation did not secure more funding to continue the programme but it continued to work with initiatives to help fill vacant CBD spaces, Pidwell said.
Ray White Commercial Tauranga director Philip Hunt said there had been a lift in inquiries, for mostly ground-floor retail.
"Many are relocating into the CBD or new businesses with great ideas, which is exciting.
"Some are short-term leases, some are longer. It is very promising."
But he said there were "huge vacancies" on the first-floor retail spaces.
"Until that is full the CBD will not thrive. It is those people who spill out on to the streets at lunchtimes etc."
Bayleys Commercial Tauranga sales manager Mark Walton said over the last month or so "we have completed six new leases and have a number of others under negotiation ... there's a real excitement around the future of the Tauranga CBD ... "
Bayleys Tauranga commercial, retail and office agent Lynn Bradley said two new retail businesses secured premises, along with two ground-floor office tenants and two retail relocations.
Bradley said she was working with several other inquirers along with interest from Mount Maunganui retailers eyeing up a second store.
"Like everything, it was only a matter of time before the transition in the CBD became a fact and not hearsay. The tide has definitely turned."
Earlier this month, best friends Adele De'Arth and Natalie Connolly opened new dessert bar But First ... Dessert on Elizabeth St, in the former Coffee Club space opposite the Farmers development.
De'Arth, 25, said the idea came from a group of friends who are self-acclaimed "massive foodies, especially when it comes to dessert".
"We've turned our dream into a reality."
The pair knew there was a risk in starting up a new business under the Covid-19 traffic light system but De'Arth thought: "It's something new to the area, so why not?
"We're taking it as a new challenge ... If anything now is the perfect time."
The pair hoped the CBD would be transformed once the Farmers building was complete.
"It will be the new place to be."
ReMaker Space founder John Paine said the business recently moved from Our Place in Willow St into the CBD's Red Square.
"The Our Place complex is closing in February so we took up the opportunity to move into the CBD to get in for the summer."
The sustainable hub, which ran workshops, events and seminars promoting sustainable living and houses a group of creatives who sold recycled products, opened in Our Place about 18 months ago.
Now it has a new home in the heart of the city centre.
Paine said more empty spaces were starting to fill as people moved into the CBD and more life was joining Wharf St and Grey St.
"The CBD is active," he said. "There are pockets of construction but it is a work in progress ... We want to be part of a new creative Tauranga."
Moving to the CBD
La Cantina – Devonport Rd
But First…Dessert – Elizabeth St
Blueprint Art Gallery – Hamilton St
Honeycomb Hairdressing – Willow St
Barter Card – Willow St
The Mooring – Devonport Rd
Craniums – Devonport Rd
Langton's Lingerie – Spring St
Remaker – Red Square
Mt Zion – Red Square
Cashmores – Devonport Rd
The Sugaring Room – Grey St
The Ceramics Gallery – Devonport Rd
Baby Factory – Elizabeth St
Source: Mainstreet Tauranga
New eatery announced for Farmers development
The second hospitality tenant to join the $200 million Farmers Tauranga redevelopment's new dining precinct has been revealed.
Philia - offering local whole foods, vegetarian and plant-based options - is the other half of Thirty Eight Elizabeth's food and beverage terrace, joining husband and wife Noel and Kim Cimadom's new eatery, Picnicka.
Philia owners Sangeeta and Gurwant Dhot said they were looking forward to treating Tauranga to a unique food offering with an emphasis on vegetarian and vegan options using unprocessed products.
Thirty Eight Elizabeth and Elizabeth Towers project manager Brett Nicholls said the shared community space and streetscaping beneath the terrace was taking shape and he was excited to open in 2022.
Nicholls said the development was due to open this year but the Covid-19 lockdown and Auckland and Waikato borders delayed the project.
"It's been a challenging time in terms of keeping to the ambitious self-imposed deadlines we set for this build.
"There is no question that we would have been now open for business with the residences on the market had Covid not got in the way."
But, he said, now the borders were open "the end is certainly in sight".