Incentives needed to lure back retailers

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2013

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Central Christchurch needs financial incentives to entice back shops, and more action to attract residents, international consultants say.

In a report on rebuilding the city's central retail precinct, Australian consultants MacroPlan Dimasi called for "a new city centre which will leave the past behind".

The report was commissioned by the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) in an attempt to spur development around the City Mall. To date, only Antony Gough's Terrace precinct is under way in the area.

More information would boost confidence, the consultants said.

Specifically, the city needed clarity over anchor project dates and the number of returning workers, a "realistic and robust" plan to bring back residents, and a new board to get the retail core going.

Boosting the central city workforce back up to 50,000 would "make a great contribution to the success of the retail core", the consultants said, noting that the anchor projects alone would bring in 7000 jobs and the retail core would add 2000.

The vision for central Christchurch should be to "provide an outstanding shopping, leisure and cultural experience which reflects the essence of contemporary New Zealand with a distinct South Island focus", they said.

The consultants recommend easing the burden of rents and other costs for the first retailers returning.

The importance of an "overarching" strategy with a physical plan was also stressed. Failing to do this would probably mean repeating past failures, the report said.

"Particularly with regard to the retail core . . . the lessons of the past need to be learnt."

The CCDU has already begun taking that advice, announcing last week that a design team headed by Athfield Architects would join developers' own designers to draw up concept plans.

MacroPlan Dimasi noted that before the quakes, central-city department stores had been under pressure, as in many parts of the world, and needed to reinvent themselves. Consumers globally were spending more on non-retail items which provided experiences, the consultants said.

This meant businesses catering to growth areas like beauty treatments, gyms, medical, wellbeing and hospitality did well in town centres.

While suburbs were attractive to retailers, many wanted flagship stores in city centres to showcase products and meet customers.

The report pointed to other successful central cities such as Melbourne, and retail centres in several United States cities, as good examples Christchurch could take ideas from.

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Consultants' comments: Strong central-city retailing does not depend on weak suburban shopping. The central city must be people-focused, well-designed and safe. It must offer an authentically Christchurch experience. Shops must offer something different from the suburbs. The arts, cultural experience, comfort and accessibility must be considered. An overall plan agreed by those involved is vital.

- The Press

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