People factor the No 1 priority

Last updated 13:15 03/12/2013
Southland Times photo
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

Vibrant Invercargill town centre manager Joan Scarlett.

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OPINION: Vibrant Invercargill town centre manager Joan Scarlett reflects on the past and future of the central business district.

On reflection, the CBD of Invercargill has had a good old-fashioned walloping over time.

It was in a very much worse state in the early to late 1990s than it is today, due to a mass exodus of middle management, relocating to other centres after decentralisation and amalgamations of the public and private business sectors.

Previous councils had the view that all new business was good for the city without much thought to zoning restrictions, leaving areas in the city fragmented.

Much earlier, there was a commercial shift away from the hub of both Dee and Tay streets and The Crescent, with businesses closing down or relocating. Banks moved to Kelvin St from the three corners of The Crescent. The mercantile firms left The Crescent to just outside the CBD on Dee St.

Long ago, Dee and Tay Streets had Broad Smalls, Reins Jewellers, Woolworths, Thomson & Beattie's, and Herbert & Haynes; all closed, renamed or moved. The Post Office relocated to Don St.

The greatestdownturn of these two streets, many would say, was the removal of the centre car parking.

Fifteen years ago there were 54 empty shops in the hub of the CBD with nine in Esk St alone, many buildings staying deserted for years.

Today, along with proactive landlords, The Crescent is all but occupied, the old Post Office now has one remaining empty space, and Courtville Place is now fully occupied.

The old NSW Bank Building at 1 Dee Street was restored. Across the street, the old BNZ is owned by the Cornerstone Church, providing a base for families and running successful children and youth programmes.

Esk Street has many national chain stores, providing apparel for the younger set and has two empty shops. Kelvin St mid block between Don & Esk Street now supports a cluster of women's high-street fashion.

There were far fewer cafs and restaurants 15 years ago; the numbers have more than doubled, with the biggest increase in ethnic choices.

E Hayes & Sons is the top tourist attraction in the CBD if not for all of Invercargill, with the Southern Institute of Technology beginning the largest growing industry, albeit in education.

How do we plan a modern CBD for the future?

Two main factors will need to be addressed - the condition of the ageing building stock and the changing face of retail through the community's lifestyle, diversity and technology.

The quality and the range of businesses available in the inner- city centre in Invercargill's CBD is considered very good. Technology is changing the way consumers shop.

How much this is going to play out in the future? Technology is changing almost daily.

Important buildings and key features within our town are part of the fabric within the business sector. Central Government has announced the earthquake standards for buildings at risk, with property owners having a 20 to 25-year window to make some huge decisions about their future.

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Many older buildings are expected to be demolished or their owners walk away because of financial uncertainty with the expense of earthquake proofing and fire egress etc. If that is the case these properties will be worth only section value less demolition.

Christchurch's aim for the future is, increase the people living in the city centre by 33 per cent to 2020 and increasing fulltime employees by 17 per cent to 2040.

That will be achieved partly by relocating public sector departments and agencies into the CBD.

The stage is now set for discussions and decisions between council, property owners and interested parties. The council can be proactive and take the lead in public/private partnerships, working together will make good economic sense as opportunities open up and provide a focus for the CBD to attract more businesses and customers.

The council bought an Awarua property in anticipation of big business coming to town, that may or may not happen. Why not do the same for the CBD?

It is imperative that parking issues are addressed. Convenient car parking is essential, as a lack of parking has been a deterrent for new businesses and consumers coming to the CBD.

The inner city "master plan" has some good elements in attracting the community into the CBD in particular social and cultural development, could this be extended to include more entertainment? Maybe a "simulator park" that would not only be fun, but also educational.

The community has said, "there was no entertainment in the CBD, a boring place." (Where's the funding coming from for more entertainment, savings from abandoning the plans of single laning Dee & Tay Streets and converting Don Street back to two- way, around $3million?).

Vibrant Invercargill is mostly in favour of the new "master plan". However, there are some issues we would like addressed.

The plan should be on public display where everyone has an opportunity to make further comments and, most importantly, gets buy-in.

The CBD is now included into the proposed district plan.

The question is, how best the council prepares the ground for this, in the here and now, also looking ahead 10 to 20 years out.

The number one priority should be the people factor, thoughtfully intertwined into the built form.

- The Southland Times

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