Developer seeks to calm fears
In the face of public opposition to the Nelson City Council selling Wakatu Square for a Farmers store, developer Paul Smith has fronted.
Two weeks ago when the proposal to sell the public asset for $2 million was announced, Mr Smith declined to speak to the Nelson Mail.
This week the director of Windermere Holdings, a private company specialising in development and investment in retail property and based in Papakura, Auckland, has spent a day in Nelson talking about what's planned.
Retailers voiced their criticism of the proposal at a meeting at the council chambers on Tuesday night.
"My understanding is the opposition is not happy about the process, the price of the land and the supposed outsider coming and having done a deal," said Mr Smith. "My answer to that is the opportunity to do this has been around a number of years and had not been put together.
"But I would be surprised if it was parochialism that killed it off. Nelson is not a tinpot town, it's a vibrant city. I fully understand the spirit of competition and respect that. I can fully understand the reaction."
The proposal is for the council to sell 3056sqm of land for $2m to Windermere which would build a 6000sqm two-storey retail centre on the Wakatu Square carpark.
It comes as mayor Aldo Miccio warns Nelson's CBD is "under threat". He has said the major project is important to retain Farmers in the CBD to retain its vitality and so other retailers would not move out.
Another planned major retail centre announced last week, Nelson Junction, was actively courting Farmers to move there, he said. That coupled with the new Kmart and the Warehouse stores in Richmond, would drain retail spending from Nelson.
The existing Farmers was its lowest category store, used as a clearance outlet, while the new store would be a premium store that would be a check against that and bring shoppers to the Trafalgar St CBD shopping strip.
"Nelson Junction is big, it's 30,000sqm that's a lot of retail. I would have opposed it but that happened before my time (in council). It's bigger than Richmond Mall and like half our CBD. It's another threat to Nelson CBD.
"If Farmers goes there other retailers will join them. Standing still with the existing Farmers in my view is not an option," said Mr Miccio.
Mr Smith said his company was approached by Farmers in June last year to look at its Nelson situation, then worked on a commercial transaction with the company and then negotiated the land transaction with the council.
Mr Miccio said they had a heads of agreement but the package was not finalised, and the council was getting a market valuation.
Mr Smith said the sale price was finalised "as far as the process is at this point". "If the council wants to revisit then it's a new deal and we decide."
The combined investment of the build and Farmers' store fitout would be about $18 to $20 million, he said.
Windermere has already built a 7800sqm Farmers store in Pukekohe which opened in February. Its other projects have included a $20m retail building with a Countdown supermarket along with a four-storey office block at Manukau, and it is renovating a Hastings shopping centre.
If the Wakatu Square proposal went ahead, tenders would be called for the construction, said Mr Smith. "We would invite and want local players to be a part of that. The more business you can keep in town the better."
Construction of the steel frame and concrete 90-metre long building would take 14 months, excluding the consent time.
"We don't want to give the message it's all done and dusted," he said.
On Wednesday he met with Suburban Bus Line Group managing director Tony Cumming who is concerned at the impact of the development on its bus operations. Mr Smith acknowledged "there is a bit of work to do there" and said the developer would work with the bus company to ensure its operations could continue.
After meeting with Hunting and Fishing store owner Chris Scully who is concerned about increased demand on car parks, Mr Smith said: "The council would need to actively manage this as shoppers' parks. You have to be careful not to have it filled with freeloaders, it has to be managed more actively."
The proposal seeks to be "parking neutral" with no loss of carparking. Wakatu Square now has 164 spaces and the development plan shows 162. "It's a work in progress, we are confident we can equal it," said Mr Smith.
He met with the owners of Fletcher Vautier Moore building and discussed the concept of a pocket park by the main entrance to the store.
He also talked with Uniquely Nelson manager Cathy Madigan and Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle. "They are very supportive of it and just hope we are able to work through the issues to get it over the line," he said.
Mr Smith would not rate the chances of getting the proposal passed. "We are very cautious. It may happen, it may not. We have been around a long time, we understand the jungle."
Public submissions on the proposal will close on September 9, a hearing is scheduled for September 12 and a decision is to be made on September 19 - this council's final meeting.
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