Regent to lead funky Broadway initiative

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 30/04/2014

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Palmerston North's Regent Theatre could come out from behind the curtains to play a greater role in the revitalisation of Broadway Ave.

One-quarter of the street's premises between Rangitikei and Princess streets are empty, and other businesses are soon to move out.

A Palmerston North City Council initiative to encourage retailers on the street to improve their image has begun with an assessment that found nearly 80 per cent of the retailers rated a zero for their contribution to the street.

Regent on Broadway manager Charles Forbes emerged from a meeting hosted at the theatre this week with fresh enthusiasm for the street's potential.

"We have never endeavoured to get involved too much outside the venue.

"What we do is to sell tickets, and that keeps us busy."

But Forbes was impressed with a presentation by Creative Cities adviser David Engwicht and Focus Paihia chairman Grant Harnish, which threw a challenge to the street's residents to make change happen.

"We could possibly be a bit of a leader," said Forbes.

"I feel the street needs to take ownership.

"In the past there has been a lot of negative talk, and a focus on what the council is or is not going to do.

"The ‘not my problem' attitude is quite deep-seated, and will take a while to change."

Passionate About Broadway placemaking group member Elizabeth Smith, from Ocean and Ice, also sees the Regent as a key issue for the street and the city.

"Broadway is so important to Palmerston North. When people come to the Regent for shows, that is the part of Palmerston North they see.

"We need to look at how the two could prosper."

While Ocean and Ice has announced it will be moving out of Broadway, around the corner to The Square, Smith said she still wanted to be part of efforts to improve Broadway, acting as a private citizen.

Her own dream was to see it build on its heritage values.

Downtown manager Greg Key said Broadway's problems would take time to tackle.

Dealing with them would need a renewed relationship of trust between the retailers and the council.

"We got hauled over the coals for changing our lightbulbs under the veranda.

"Things like that don't help."

He agreed that people who did business in the street needed to take ownership and start with tidying up the environment.

"But we need to take one step at a time."

City planner David Murphy said while encouraged by the 70-strong turnout at the meeting, there were still about half of the retailers missing. "But it's a good start."

Broadway businesses have been issued a challenge to up their individual contributions to the street within six weeks, then agree on a joint project.

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Forbes said he had a few ideas.

"One of the first things I feel we could do is clean up the grubby frontages. Just some sparkling shop windows would help, even if it's empty behind them.

"It's about getting everybody together and getting on with it.

"We are going to get off our chuffs, and see if we can't get a few followers, a bit of activity and a bit of street life."

- Manawatu Standard

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