In the fourth in a series on key election issues for Rotorua, senior reporter Matthew Martin takes a look at developments in the central business district.

Rotorua's central city has seen a lot of changes in the past three years, including the ongoing redevelopment of the City Focus and the demolition of the old Community House building.

Rotorua Lakes Council strategy and partnerships group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said there was more to come, even after more than 50 projects had been completed that he believed had brought new life, colour and excitement to the city.

Among finished projects are murals and artworks, revamped intersections, new seating and bike stands, new bus stops, revamped inner city parking, the Green Corridor, improved public toilets and an extension to the Thursday Night Market.


Projects yet to be completed are the final phase of the City Focus redevelopment, Sunday Farmers' Market launching in October, the library and children's health hub redevelopment and the extension of Jean Batten Park.

The council also put in place its Percent-for-Arts policy which has committed 1 per cent of annual capital spending to public art development and infrastructure enhancement.

"During the Rotorua 2030 development process the community told us they wanted an attractive, safe and vibrant inner city with a strong economy, so really that's driven that portfolio," Mr Gaston said.

"Council worked hard with the Inner City Steering Group, with retailers and businesses coming together, and put together a revitalisation project for the inner city.

"We are very lucky the partnership has been so strong and they have driven a huge number of objects we have seen come to fruition already.

"One of those priorities was to strengthen Tutanekai St, so you can now see all the artwork and murals and lighting to improve safety ... and moving the bus interchange from Pukuatua St."

He said the last time the city got a makeover was more than 25 years ago in the early 1990s.

"We are really in a bit of a catch-up mode here, the city was neglected for quite a while."

But, Mr Gaston admitted it had not all been plain sailing with some criticism, especially of changes to the City Focus.

"There have been a number of people saying 'why did you have to do it at all?'

"The message that has come back strongly from the partnership we have with business is that it's hard out there, the CBD needs our support, it needs to move with the times and needs a refresh to make it easier to be a successful retailer and business in the CBD.

"We really want people to love the CBD once again."

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Mark Gould:

The CBD revitalisation project has made a good start to encouraging business back into the city.

I think it will be a long-term problem and any plans we have now will need to be flexible, as the very nature of "shopping" as we know it is an ever changing beast.

I want us to have a vibrant and exciting CBD that includes green spaces, good lighting, shade and shelter.

Most importantly, members of our community must feel safe in it at any time.

I would like to think that changes to alcohol legislation will have a positive impact on safety within this area.

As your mayor I want to make it easy for businesses to do business in Rotorua. I also want to keep the cost of being a retailer in the CBD to a reasonable level.

Dr Reynold Macpherson:

In my view the Inner City Revitalisation strategy is one of the current regime's greatest planning disasters, up there alongside the Te Arawa Partnership and Eastern Arterial.

It ignored the highly competitive mall and shopping centre retailing models, changing CBD purposes and online marketing.

Instead of proper evaluations, officials publish expensive advertorials that announce its success.

Turning this disaster around will require the election of a mayor and councillors with proven expertise in community and economic development, organisational leadership of planning and implementation, and authentic consultations with owners and stakeholders.

We need compelling business plans for public-private partnerships that attract investment.

The ideological amateurs have failed badly and will have to be retired.

Rob Kent:

My view is that the current CBD revitalisation plans are inadequate to fix the centre city problem, as are the safety nightmare plans for the City Focus.

The drive to clean up the CBD, and the installation of expensive artworks and murals has lifted cosmetic appearance, and with the buoyant tourist economy boosted local confidence, but we haven't addressed the problem, which is that pedestrian counts are falling.

It's time we took the blinkers off.

We need to call on the wealth of talent and international experience that is out there in our diverse community.

That's why I've thrown my 'open-air mall, one-way Tutanekai St' idea into the mix - to stimulate public discussion and get some real planning for the future of this city under way.

Frances Louis:

I support Rob Kent's concept. But I still maintain that any people activity must include civil defence training and a healthy respect for emergency services such as police, fire brigade and ambulance.

As mayor I would hand over the streets to civil defence and emergency services staff.

John Rakei-Clark:

Reconnecting Hinemoa and Tutanekai, so people can drive to the places that they want to get to, increasing traffic and shop ownership.

My idea is to ask for volunteers to assist, as it is Rotorua tradition for us all to get involved together.

This is our culture, Hinemoa and Tutanekai are very symbolic, they shouldn't be separated.

Steve Chadwick:

During consultation on Vision 2030, people told us they wanted an attractive, safe, vibrant inner city with a strong economy.

Council partnered with retailers and business people to plan and implement solutions together and the relationship continues to thrive.

Fifty-five projects from Eat Streat to establishing the night market, revamping intersections, improved lighting and artworks have contributed to the revitalisation.

Foot traffic and retail spend is up. We now have a confident business community.

We have been told by business and locals to keep the momentum going so revitalisation of the inner city remains a priority.

RangiMarie Kingi did not respond.

Inner city facts and figures:

- 2015 to 2025 Long-term Plan allocates $8.4 million in capital spend and $2.7m in operational spend
- 6.6 per cent increase in pedestrians on Tutanekai St in 2015, following a 12 per cent increase in 2014
- Business confidence increased to 37 per cent in 2015, from 25 per cent in 2013 and 2014
- Retail spending up - electronic card spend increased 5.9 per cent in the year to June 2016 compared with national increase of 2.8 per cent
- Empty shops - 82 in 2015, down from 87 in 2014 and 85 in 201