An increase in vacant shops has some local shop owners fearing Rotorua's CBD is dying, saying it's on its way to becoming a ghost town.
However a district councillor rebuts this, saying the city is heading in the right direction.
The introduction of paid parking, shopping centres on the outskirts and a rise in empty shop windows were some of the factors business owners raised when talking with the Rotorua Daily Post about the state of the CBD.
Their comments were prompted by the December 2018 TelferYoung survey which found there were 59 vacant shops in the CBD, five more than in 2017. While slight in store numbers, the total amount of empty space rose by nearly 2500sq m, from 9958sq m in 2017 to 12,444sq m in 2018.
The report stated the rise in empty retail floor space was largely due to the part-time tenancy to the council for a temporary library on the corner of Amohia and Pukuatua Sts.
TelferYoung valuation specialist Grant Utteridge said an extra five vacant stores was not out of the ordinary and Rotorua's retail trends were not abnormal compared with what was seen nationally.
Utteridge said five more vacant shops were no reason to be alarmed - 10 to 15 closures was what he would deem concerning.
However, a range of retailers were approached by the Rotorua Daily Post.
Businesses with a commodity which could be found elsewhere were the most fearful of their ability to survive in the city, compared with specialised services.
Owners of the Suspension Lab, Knox Engravers, and restaurants were not concerned with the effects of lowered foot traffic as their businesses were more an intentional destination by customers.
But those who relied on foot traffic, like Bedstop managing director Dave Prendergast, noticed it.
The store is closing down and Prendergast did not know what would happen next.
"It's all up in the air".
He said there was "very low" foot-traffic as people were drawn out of the CBD to the larger shopping centres, and had no reason to come to town now the Tutanekai St Post Shop had closed.
He said vacant space was bad news for a city in general.
"It's just been a general deterioration in shopping numbers that tend to use the CBD."
Prendergast said he felt the damage had been done and it was almost too late to fix.
A boutique shop owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Rotorua's CBD was at risk of becoming a ghost town after they were forced to leave as a result of no business.
When they moved to the CBD, they told the Rotorua Daily Post they believed the town seemed to be alive. In contrast, they now say, "it wasn't as bustling as we thought".
He too believed the loss of the post office drew people out of the city, and he was not alone as multiple retail outlets spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post said they believed the loss was the beginning of the end.
District councillor and inner city portfolio lead Karen Hunt said the council did not want to see the post office go but the decision was out of their hands.
She was of the view the city was headed in the right direction.
"That doesn't mean there won't be a few bumps along the way," she said.
"It's really important to take in the big picture," Hunt said, which were the developments and projects set to generate foot traffic and subsequent retail spending.
Projects including the Lakefront and CDB development, and Kuirau Park, which would join Tutanekai St and the Lakefront, would see a "significant" increase in retail spending, she said.
Hunt said the council was eager to see developers introduce apartments into the city, too.
Clothing Clinic owner Mel Akurangi said while her business was currently okay, it was only a matter of time before the empty shops would catch up on them all.
"Whether you're doing well here or not… we can't survive without one another," Akurangi said.
She said the increase in shops closing would see the CBD turn into a ghost town.
She thought the parking, which she had to pay for daily, would empty the streets. She could see herself eventually forced to leave.
Carpet Barn owner Glenn Donaldson agreed, saying people did not want to deal with the parking and neither did he.
Vacant stores were mostly found away from the main strip shopping street, but Colliers International agent Mark Rendell said inquiries about fringe offices had increased because of inner-city parking.
Rendell said parking meters were an issue going forward as workers could not park anywhere.
"I think there still needs to be more free car parks," he said.
In response to questions from the Rotorua Daily Post, the Rotorua Lakes Council provided a written statement from mayor Steve Chadwick.
In it she said issues around filling vacant spaces and figuring out what a city center should be were not unique to Rotorua but the council needed inner-city representatives work towards an environment people wanted to be in.
"We have a large CBD and we need to stop thinking about it as being just about shops," she said.
"Our CBD is already a diverse place," she said.
"While some business people say things are tough for them right now there are also others who are optimistic and doing well."
What council has done to date:
- Improved intersections
- Art installations and alleyway art
- Increased CCTV and lighting in the CBD
- Inner city markets aimed at attracting people into the CBD
- Revamped heart of the central city (Te Manawa)
- Eat Streat
- Jean Batten Park expansion and revamp
- Summer activation, like live entertainment
- CBD safety initiative with police
- Rotorua Lakes Council