Bid to keep Farmers store in CBD

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 12/12/2013

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The Nelson City Council is still working with Farmers on a solution to where it might build a new store in central Nelson, and the door has been opened for other developers to pitch for a role in advancing the project.

Newly elected councillors have picked up where the previous council left the proposed sale of Wakatu Square for the development, and were to discuss at today's full council meeting options that included taking no action, to seeking expressions of interest on Wakatu Square, to consulting again on selling Wakatu Square, a council report said.

Farmers operates from two stores in Nelson, including leased premises in Trafalgar St, and from premises it owns in Bridge St. The trading company has for some time been looking for space to create one larger store in Nelson.

In late 2012 the council was approached by Auckland development company Windermere Holdings which wanted to purchase land in Wakatu Square for a 5500-square-metre Farmers store over two floors. The council announced the proposal to the public in August this year, which raised problems with the deal.

While most felt that keeping Farmers in the central city was vital, those opposed to the proposal were concerned about the sale price of the land (at about $1 million below market rate), the impact on parking in the area, shading of surrounding sites, and the location and overall design of the development.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said that since then discussions had taken place with a number of local parties but no alternative proposal had yet been put before Farmers.

Two Nelson property development firms confirmed they were part of the mix of discussions, but it was still early days.

Achilles Properties director Rob Stevenson, who has been in talks with the council over the Wakatu Square site since 2006, said yesterday the company was working on a proposal it felt was a better fit for the site and for the city.

Roger Gibbons of Gibbons Property said the firm had been in talks with the council, and was now waiting to see which direction it wanted to go. He credited the council with opening up an opportunity for local developers.

Windermere director Paul Smith hinted again that any failure to secure a central city site large enough for the project meant Farmers was likely to head out of town.

"It would leave them no choice but to consider the offer before them of going to Nelson Junction (the development by Mitre 10 Mega, and World of WearableArt museum and gallery).

Farmers confirmed at the recent hearing on the sale of Wakatu Square that it was considering a move to Nelson Junction, but would prefer to remain in the city centre if a site could be found within its timeframes. Mr Smith said in the meantime they were "sitting, waiting and being patient".

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"We are happy to continue to work with the council. We've done as much as we can do to date, but we just have to be patient," he said.

Ms Reese said it was her preference that a request for proposal process was opened to others.

"FTC is an important anchor tenant for the retail sector and as

a council we are supportive of Farmers staying in the CBD.

"Private enterprise has signalled they are willing to work with Farmers to find a situation that works for their needs. We are very supportive of progressing that but conscious that at some point, based on what Farmers said, they do need an upgraded store," Ms Reese told the Nelson Mail this week.

She was aware Farmers would prefer to stay where they were in the Trafalgar St location.

"We see that as the most desirable location but Wakatu Square is still a good location.

"If they're unable to reach an agreement on non council-owned land we have not ruled out a sale of council land for Farmers development," Ms Reese said.

She said a solution acceptable to Farmers was needed by the end of the month.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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