Christchurch's City Mall re-opens

MARTIN MOORE AND BEN HEATHER
Last updated 16:05 29/10/2011
John Marshall
Don Scott
BUSKING: John Marshall is back after a year away.

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Shoppers and sightseers have packed Christchurch's City Mall, with many retailers re-opening for the first time since the February 22 quake.

Prime Minister John Key officially reopened the mall in Cashel Street at midday before hundreds of people eager to see the city for the first time in eight months.

Thousands of shoppers are expected to visit the mall this weekend where 27 businesses have opened.

One of the first in was Joy Luxon who was delighted to see a part of the city reopen. "It is amazing, it's great for the city - we've been starving for Balantynes."

Redcliffs resident Paul Hammonds was away visiting family in the Middle East when the February earthquake hit. "My friends and family said 'don't go back'.

"But I want to stay here and help rebuild my city. This is a good initiative - we've got to make a start."

FIRST ST JOHN CALLOUT TO CBD

St John has attended its first call-out in the Christchurch Central Business District since February 22.

A woman in her 70s fell over outside Ballantynes on the corner of Cashel and Colombo Streets at 1.46pm.

St John spokesman Ian Henderson said she had suffered leg and chest injuries and was taken to the Christchurch Hospital's emergency department by the rapid response vehicle.

She was in a moderate condition, he said.

"This is the first call out St John has attended in the CBD since 22 February."

BUSKING BUSINESS

Accordion player John Marshall said he had not been in the mall for 12 months. " I've just gotta get myself back into it."

George Cowper, owner of the Hummingbird Café, said the city could not have had better weather for the re-opening.

"And I think the architect has done an amazing job with the design.

"We're doing it properly or not at all, we're committed to Christchurch.

"You can see by the substance of the place it's not a five-minute project."

FRANTIC PREPARATIONS

Exhausted workers Kendall Lynch and Keith Sycamore of Plush were still carrying in stock just moments before the mall opened.

AJ of Hunters and Collectors said it had been a crazy last few days. "I haven't been to bed in 28 hours. It's exciting."

Lezanne Hugh of Lee's Construction said staff had worked round-the-clock. "We've been here eight weeks doing 75 hour weeks. You can say it's 95 per cent complete."

Colleague Aaron Tahuhu said the containers only started looking good in the last couple of days. "This is my city and I was lucky enough to get in with these guys [Lee's construction] from the beginning."

Builder Warren Tichborne said many builders had worked long hours to get the mall ready.

R&R Sports reopening project manager Andy Hyland said the store was lucky.

"The shop was in pretty good nick, we're a bit of an anomaly because we're the only building operating other than Ballantynes."

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Hyland said it was an imporant day for Christchurch. "One great thing is that there's so much more light in here now."

GREAT DAY FOR CANTABRIANS

Key said the reopening was "great news for Cantabrians" and for retailers.

"This is an important step in re-opening the CBD red zone to residents and retailers alike, and gives more certainty to people as they look to the future of this great city."

The Restart initiative has seen most shops set up in temporary containers alongside the flagship Ballantynes department store.

The Restart the Heart Trust was given a $3.36 million interest-free loan from the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal to fund the project.

The appeal fund was the Government's official fundraiser for the recovery effort in Christchurch and Canterbury and now has nearly $100 million in pledged and received funds.

FOUR PEOPLE DIED IN FEBRUARY

Eight months ago, City Mall was the scene of destruction and sorrow. Today, it becomes the first step in rebuilding the central city.

Heritage facades which fell, killing four people in the February quake, have disappeared, replaced with brightly coloured shipping containers grouped into 27 temporary shops.

Where many buildings used to stand are vacant lots, converted into $1-an-hour parking for the expected influx of shoppers.

From today, Cantabrians can wander to the corner of Cashel and Colombo streets, allowing them to see many of the gaping holes left by the devastating February 22 earthquake.

City Mall Restart director Paul Lonsdale, who also fronts the Central City Business Association, said he was preparing for a big crowd, with parking expected to overflow into Hagley Park.

However, he stressed that people did not to have come today, with the temporary shopping precinct requiring ongoing support for at least six months. "We want everyone in Christchurch to come through at least once," he said.

The success of City Mall Restart has been viewed by many as the critical first test for rebuilding the central city, gauging people's willingness to return and businesses' ability to survive in an environment reshaped by destruction.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said Restart marked the first step in the journey towards reclaiming the central city. "This is the first glimmer of light back in the central city."

The bulwark of Restart will be the department store Ballantynes, which Lonsdale said had been responsible for about 33 per cent of the central business district's retail traffic before the quake.

Ballantynes managing director Mary Devine said the opening would be exciting but emotional. "I think there will be some interest, but a lot of people will take their time.

"It has been quite an emotional journey and there will be some quiet moments tomorrow."

In the temporary shops, tenants include a mix of well-known former central city businesses, such as Scorpio Books and Johnson's Grocery Store, and fashion brands.

Lonsdale said getting the mix right will be critical in enticing people back into the mall and keeping them coming back. "Restart has to work, because if it doesn't it will probably do more damage than good."

Making the ambitious deadline to reopen before Cup and Show week had not been easy, requiring more than a dozen demolitions and building something never before attempted in New Zealand.

On Wednesday, Restart organisers were threatened by British developer Roger Wade, who claimed they had copied his "pop-up mall" in Shoreditch, London. Yesterday, he struck a more conciliatory tone, claiming he was not seeking to prevent Restart but wanted some recognition that his development had been an "inspiration".

Lonsdale and Devine both cautioned City Mall would be a little rough around the edges today, but they were confident it would open as planned.

Hopefully, it will be the first of many ribbon-cuttings in Christchurch's broken heart.

The weather should play its part for a successful reopening.

Forecasters say there could be some early fog or low cloud in Christchurch but that should soon burn off.

By lunchtime, it should be mostly sunny with light winds and mild or even warm temperatures, peaking around 22 or 23 degrees Celsius.

- The Press

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