When the shops close, Hastings city centre can resemble a ghost town.

Yet a few decades ago, Hastings was the only place to be, with late-night shopping on Friday just the start of a night on the town.

The legacy of its popularity is a retail footprint that's too big for its population, the city centre is too long.

Online shopping and large-format retailing outside the CBD doesn't help either.

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But on the eastern side of Hastings, things are changing. Heretaunga St East is home to an eclectic mix of artisan shops and food outlets, with The Common Room a live-music venue that's a national-tour fixture.

Next door, a craft gin distillery is under construction and a stone's throw away the Hawke's Bay Opera House precinct is receiving a $20 million upgrade from Hastings District Council, which is also spending millions more bringing the rest of Hastings up to scratch.

Hastings District Councillor, Damon Harvey said there is a lot planned, starting with the Opera precinct.

"That is a project that was kicked off probably about 12 months or 18 months ago," he said.

"That is a revitalisation or upgrade – earthquake strengthening of the Opera House, a new-look plaza and then it stretches all the way through.

"We have new laneways that are going to connect with the main Heretaunga St so that people can park near and walk through and have lunches."

Office developments are succeeding in Hastings and more are on their way, but there's still the problem of empty streets after hours, so the council's plan is to bring in more residents through making it easier to convert the upper floors of existing buildings into apartments.

Hastings District Council's Environmental Policy Manager, Rowan Wallis said there could be about 200 new apartments in existing buildings.

"We want to provide for apartment living to try to enliven the inner city and bring people into it," he said.

"What better way than to have people living here.

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"It also helps to utilise the existing buildings, which realistically are going to be used above ground floor for office accommodation because it doesn't suit the new office fit out.

"So if we can use them for apartments, we can bring people into the inner city - bring a bit of life to the place.

"The Council recently adopted a variation to the District Plan which allows for apartment living above ground. Previously they required a resource consent application which is a little bit of a handbrake for developers and property owners. But we wanted to make that a lot more permissive, to allow people to develop the upper floors of the inner city, to bring people into the area.

"There are the large number of existing buildings that you could retrofit, and that 200 is not going to happen overnight, of course. It will take a few good examples to get the ball rolling."

He said a parking assessment showed there were enough carparks for apartment dwellers, assuming residents used them after business hours.

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