Napier initiative fails to deliver the goods on Make Space programme

Sonja Christensen feels like she has been let down by the Make Space initiative supported by Napier City Council.
TOMMY LIVINGSTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Sonja Christensen feels like she has been let down by the Make Space initiative supported by Napier City Council.

A Hawke's Bay woman says she has been let down by a failed initiative by the Napier City Council to help secure free rental spaces for new business.

Sonja Christensen successfully applied last year to be part of the council's Make Space programme, which was aimed at helping emerging local businesses.

The council initiative was led and run by the Napier City Business Inc (NCBI), which would help negotiate short term, rent-free spaces in empty shops across the city for new businesses.

A boom in the rental market is the reason why Make Space failed to get off the ground, according to Napier City Business Inc.
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A boom in the rental market is the reason why Make Space failed to get off the ground, according to Napier City Business Inc.

Christensen, who designs clothes, was one of four people who were chosen to be part of the programme.

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But after waiting almost a year for a space to become available she believes the Make Space initiative has been a flop.

"I try not to get bitter about it, there was a lot of hope there. Someone needs to say to the public, 'we put the cart before the horse'," she said.

Christensen believed she was set up to fail and was given unrealistic expectations by those promoting the scheme.

"There was no landlord who was going to give up a premises for six months. They couldn't pin a landlord down, they couldn't get a premises. It was getting clear by November that actually, this was not going to happen," she said.

"People would come up to me and ask how is the store going, I would have to say it wasn't happening. A lot of time went into it. I believed so much it was going to happen I stopped looking for work. I am a single mum who needs to be looking for work.

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"I was the sucker who fell for it, wholeheartedly."

Zoe Barnes, who lead the project for NCBI, said there were never any promises made that a space would be found.

The scheme had failed, largely, due to the local rental market heating up.

"Unfortunately for this project, the launch coincided with an unexpectedly huge boom in Napier retail occupancy, which is now at an all-time high, with significantly increased development happening also," she said.

"So, therefore, landlords are not in the position they were a year ago when they did in fact have empty spaces, and they are certainly not willing to offer their spaces for free.

"It is also worth noting that we had actually secured two retail spaces for this project initially, both of which were commercially let before we could get off the ground."

Barns said Christensen was the only business owner they had been looking to help, as the other successful applicants had dropped out.

"It would have been fantastic, we really tried hard for Sonja."

The project, which cost approximately $6000, is now paused, according to Barnes.

"It's never going to be something which is completely forgotten about," she said.

 - Stuff

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