Auckland's famous Karangahape Rd is developing and changing fast, but people needn't fear that it will lose its unique character, according to a local commercial property expert.
Jack Hall, a broker at Wilson Hurst, says that although tenant demand is high, investors are buying up and developers are busy, the street is unlikely to become a carbon copy of other "gentrified" precincts in central Auckland such as Ponsonby Rd.
"There are a lot of exciting new developments that have recently opened on K Rd and more under construction. But the street will still retain the different flavour and edgy character which it is renowned for," he says.
"New developments on K Rd, and transport improvements in the area, will bring in a bigger customer base which is positive for all occupiers on the street - both old and new."
People worried about K Rd becoming a bland replica of Auckland's more upmarket shopping streets can take comfort in the fact that it can be quite difficult for prospective retail tenants to lease property on the strip, as vacancy is now low, says Hall.
"There aren't many opportunities for mainstream brands to enter K Rd at the moment. Vacancy is low and lots of landlords are happy with their current longstanding tenants, many of whom are on long leases."
Many of K Rd's landlords care about the character of the street and take responsibility for helping to protect its special fabric through their leasing decisions, he says.
There is also demand for temporary spaces on K Rd for use for art exhibitions and pop-up shops, but even these prospective occupiers are finding it difficult to secure space as landlords who do have vacancies are looking for permanent tenants.
Existing tenants are also holding on to their units, Hall says.
"The fact that many existing tenants are not moving out is another indication that the street is not in danger of losing its character. Those occupiers who are lucky enough to already be on K Rd don't want to move and that will slow down the pace of mainstream gentrification."
Availability of retail space has further dried up in the past couple of months, coinciding with several new developments opening or being announced. This is proof that some lucky tenants have snapped up the opportunity to get in ahead of a new wave of development, says Hall.
"Several construction and regeneration projects have been completed and are in progress at various points along the ridge. The Food Workshop at 309 K Rd, the restoration of St Kevin's Arcade and The Lighthouse at number 442 are just a few examples."
These new occupiers are enhancing the existing mix on the street, which includes a growing number of popular bars and restaurants, along with Holm cafe and shared workspace, Retro City Vintage & Collectibles, Between cafe & eatery and Melanie Roger Gallery, which have all moved to K Rd following Wilson Hurst lease deals. Wilson Hurst has also recently signed catering business Divine Morsels to a space at 450 K Rd, Hall says.
The new Haka Lodge upmarket backpackers' hostel at number 373 also adds a quality new accommodation option to the area, while the office tenant mix in general has become more creative-oriented with advertising, graphic design and architecture businesses moving in, he says.
Auckland Transport plans
The upcoming K Rd Station on the City Rail Link is driving even more positivity and will bring in large numbers of people who might not have stopped off on K Rd before. This is very positive for all the tenants on the street, Hall says. Auckland Transport has responded to the strong demand trends on K Rd, with plans for streetscape improvements including dual protected cycleways, bus lanes, bike parking, changes to car parking, upgraded street lighting and street furniture, opportunities for outdoor dining, trees and landscaping.
Recognising the significant impact the new City Rail Link station will have on the street, Auckland Transport aims to create a vibrant space in which people will want to spend time walking, shopping and socialising.
According to Auckland Council's Karangahape Rd Plan 2014-2044, the vision for the street is "a safe and well-connected place connected to a resilient public transport network while celebrating and protecting its distinctive historical and cultural heritage, all the while reinforcing its role as the colourful entertainment and creative fringe of the city centre.
"It is hugely important to do all of this while protecting and enhancing K Rd's historic heritage, unique cultural identity, and the "gritty" character for which the area is known," the plan states.
If successfully completed, the proposed improvements to K Rd have the potential to restore the street to an inviting, attractive, pedestrian-friendly shopping and entertainment hub, as it was a century ago, says Hall.
Auckland Transport data already shows foot traffic increasing along K Rd, with six separate locations along the ridge recording an increase in pedestrians between March 2015 and March 2016. Reasons for the increase are likely to include the conversion of several nearby office buildings into apartments, he says.
Back to glory days
"The streetscape improvement plan is a very positive development which will encourage more and more pedestrians to use the street again, with foot traffic flowing around the corner between K Rd and Ponsonby Rd."
Auckland Transport's project is also in recognition of K Rd's status as an important transport route into the city, Hall says.
"With many people already using K Rd to cycle into the city centre, providing a protected cycleway is expected to further encourage cycling as a viable commuting option. The cycleway is also expected to be positive for K Rd businesses, as someone cycling is more likely to stop at local shops than someone driving."
The increased number of potential customers visiting K Rd as a result of improved commuting options and pedestrian flow points to a very positive future for the street, he says.
"We're well on the way to a really exciting future for K Rd, where the existing colourful mix of ecletic occupiers will exist happily alongside new developments. We believe this will give the street a much-needed new lease on life while retaining its unique character."
Hall says such a resurgence will take the street full circle, back to its original place as a cornerstone part of the Auckland's shopping scene, as in the first half of the 20th century.
"What we're seeing now is just the start of the return of the glory days for the K Rd ridge, while remembering tougher times. The street now has a great mix of occupiers to suit a very wide customer base, based on its offbeat mix of occupiers and unique character, and this will continue to evolve in a positive way.
"Its special fabric and increasing popularity adds up to a really exciting future, which is great news for the whole of central Auckland."