A month ahead of the Local Elections high vacancy rates in the Whangārei CBD have become a widely discussed topic again.
The Northern Advocate published a survey last week showing that 48 out of 345 shops in the downtown area are currently empty.
Retailers, property investors and real estate agents point at the Whangārei District Council saying council hasn't done enough the encourage business opportunities in the city.
We took the issue to the three Whangārei mayoral candidates and asked what their action plan was to revitalise the CBD this coming term, and how they would improve parking.
We are not alone. Empty shops are concerning provincial centres everywhere. Internet shopping and big box retail have meant steady declines in high street shopping.
City centres are no longer just about retail, banking or professional services.
Who is responsible to turn the tide? It's not just up to the Mayor to make a plan!
We need our landlords, tenants and council to work together, to make things happen. Temporary tenancies filled with vibrant art, music and community projects are an option.
Some building owners need to get real, sharpen their acts, clean buildings, offer incentives to occupy their spaces. Council (via ratepayers) has plans to make better streets.
Some inner city business owners are optimistic and doing well. Investment in the Canopy and Laneway injected new life into the city centre, and our community loves events, festivals, and live music in the CBD.
Successful city centres are well-connected, where people live, dine, shop and learn.
Let's build on the success of our murals and start walking tours led by ambassadors who can relay stories of the many historical sites in the city. We have a rich culture and many tales to be told.
Is free parking the answer? Let's trial it, but unlimited free parking is NOT the answer. New parking buildings are in our plan.
Retailers with innovative marketing campaigns retain and grow their share of the consumer dollar.
Landlords with innovative attitudes and attractive buildings attract innovative retailers.
Let's grab what works from cities that work – let's work together!
I have been speaking to landlords and businesses all around Whangārei. There is one clear message about why they will not invest in Whangārei anymore: Council is just too hard to deal with.
To fix that council's culture must change from "can't do" to "can do".
I will convene a success summit made up of business leaders to tell council what needs to be done.
I have set out my 10 priorities to make Whangārei a centre of achievement and success.
My plan includes:
I will introduce free parking in the CBD and start building a new car park.
The commercial sector has had a raw deal from council in the last six years. Council has not justified why it charges commercial ratepayers between six and seven times the residential rate.
I will initiate a full and comprehensive review of the rating system to make sure it is fair and affordable for all ratepayers, including rural and commercial ratepayers.
What's worse, this council isn't prepared to back Northland businesses. Time and again council contracts are awarded elsewhere.
Council doesn't seem to get it that money spend here, is re-spent many times locally. Let's get locals working.
I will initiate a full and thorough review of council fees and charges and development levies.
While we need robust rules to protect what we most value in our district, the council's planning rules have gone too far. I will restore that balance by making the process people-led, not planner-led.
As Mayor, the first step for me in this whole process is to sit round the table with the Whangārei CBD property owners to discuss with them their constraints and their plans.
The next step would be to have the follow up discussions with the property owners and the appropriate council staff, including the Whangārei District Council city planners.
As Mayor, I would also need to gain a full overview on what needs to happen in the Whangārei CBD which would involve meeting with councillors, Northland Chamber of Commerce, CBD property owners and any other key stakeholders.
From these robust discussions, I would envisage the decisions on the need for improved parking and zone changing for example, inner city living.
In my opinion, do we need more shops or do we need a complete rethink on a new CBD city strategy to be able to encourage inner-city living with more eateries for example?
I believe that public consultation with public meetings is also very important in this whole process for change in the Whangārei CBD.