Moves afoot to revamp empty premises

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 11:38 02/01/2014

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Close to 16 per cent of shops in Palmerston North's central business district are empty, a number that has prompted the Manawatu Chamber of Commerce to call for business owners to take responsibility for the state of their patch of the city.

The Manawatu Standard yesterday counted 396 retail locations in the central business district in a survey spanning George St, Coleman Mall, Broadway Ave, The Square, Cuba, King and Main streets, as well as The Plaza and Downtown shopping centres.

The Plaza, which expanded to 104 shops in 2010, continues to have 100 per cent occupancy but of the other 292 retail stores counted in the CBD, 47 were empty.

In January 2013 there were 39 empty shops in the CBD.

King St - now 63 per cent empty - and Broadway Ave - now 21 per cent empty - have led the increases.

Coleman Mall/George St and The Square remain the best for occupancy outside the malls with just 8 and 10 per cent of retail stores empty, respectively.

Manawatu Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephanie Gundersen-Reid said the reason that some areas of the city were doing well and others were not was not a coincidence.

"Some of the areas of Palmerston North that have taken on the challenge of place-making have had some great results in their area but there are also retailers in some areas that really need to come together to figure out how they can enhance their part of the city."

If retailers outside The Plaza worked together, they would be able to fill the stores next to them in the long term, Ms Gundersen-Reid said.

But it was not just a lack of desire to brighten the CBD that had increased the number of empty stores.

"There has been earthquake strengthening this year that will have had an impact on some of those statistics because if you look in general terms retail has done really well this year.

"There's been a notable increase in people that have been prepared to spend their savings and we haven't had that in the past two years. If we continue on the current rate, I would expect the number of empty shops to decrease rather than increase."

Professionals commercial manager Steve Williams said the tide of shops leaving Broadway was beginning to turn. The year saw the street lose long-term tenants such as GQ, Bag World and Munchkins but gain stores such as Bachari menswear.

The Plaza expansion had created an illusion that not all was well with retail, but in reality there were more shops in the city than ever before, Mr Williams said.

"The business owners that are prepared to roll up their sleeves in Broadway over the next few years are going to do really well because things are turning and the rent outside The Plaza is just so much cheaper," he said.

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Colliers commercial real estate agent Steve O'Connell said there were more genuine inquiries about retail property in Palmerston North than there had been a year ago, and Broadway was not seen as an unattractive option.

"There's plans afoot for rejuvenation which will create a real buzz with it, but even in 2013 there was significant investment and some really good long-term tenants who moved in. We're starting to get rid of the internet cafes and the like which were only ever going to be short-term."

- Manawatu Standard

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