The "dark art" of parking, seismically-challenged buildings, on-line shopping, seven-day retail chain-stores and empty shops have inspired a Hastings District Council review of its city centre to make it "future-proof".
At the Moving our City Forward Mayoral CBD Symposium yesterday a range of experts outlined issues and options.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the symposium was part of public consultation before "going down a path".
"There are 60,000 people living in this region and Hastings needs to make sure it is a compelling place for people to come and shop and be in - we are not afraid of change," he told Hawke's Bay Today.
"We are trying to understand what is happening to retail shopping - online, the impact on different forms of retailing and if the size of the CBD right.
"There is a message we need to shift to a more mixed use of inner-city living and commercial activity
"Overall this is about how do we future-proof Hastings CBD."
MC at the Breakers Hastings function centre event was urban geographer Karen Remitis.
She said that in 2001 it was reported New Zealand had 27 per cent more retail per capita than Sydney, a statistic developers used when arguing for large-format retail centres.
"We had quite enough retail and ended up with an oversupply," she said.
International urban designer James Lunday said Hastings' heritage architecture, wineries, fresh air and climate gave it a "California feel".
To add life and vitality he suggested growing the residential population. Queen St could become a "Bohemian quarter", with Art Deco and Spanish Mission buildings ripe for development.
"Tangata are what is needed - it is people who warm the pa - but if you can only do one project, concentrate on the opera house precinct," he said.
He praised Hastings District Council's Good Things Grow Here catchphrase and said it should be used to encourage people to move to one of New Zealand's most liveable cities.
"Pinch the Aucklanders - they're leaving in droves."
Property Council New Zealand policy manager Alex Voutratzis said the cost of seismic strengthening of buildings, on top of an economic downturn "could kill small towns".
For many heritage buildings "the bulldozer is the best option".
Matters from the symposium to be taken further included a "night economy" - more businesses open in the evening - more events and cultural activities.
A symposium on parking is planned for the coming months.