Support grows for ethnic hub

FRANCESCA LEE
Last updated 05:00 05/11/2012
Taz Mukorombindo
ANNA PRICE/Fairfax NZ
The Canterbury Business Association chief executive Taz Mukorombindo.

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A proposed international hub aggregating ethnic businesses in one area in Christchurch's new central business district could well be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

The Canterbury Business Association (CBA) is proposing a Christchurch international hub which will put ethnic businesses and migrant service providers in one area in the city's new CBD.

The idea for an international precinct was included in the central city draft plan submitted to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee last year, but it was not in the final blueprint.

The hub, which was in its early planning stages, would be a destination for locals and visitors, CBA chief executive Taz Mukorombindo said.

"It's just basically a campus-style development that will have retail, food, art, and training facilities."

The planned hub would put international language schools, a market for ethnic arts and crafts, New Zealand tourist souvenir shops, ethnic kitchenettes and ethnic restaurants, and migrant social services together in the central city.

The hub would also have a place for cultural performances and ethnic-style gardens, and Mukorombindo hoped to have a vegetable market every weekend to encourage small business start-ups and micro-enterprise.

"It's focused around creating a place to accommodate the diversity of our city. The ideas are community focused and it contains elements of community involvement in supporting local businesses and creating jobs for local people."

It would give ethnic businesses displaced by the quakes somewhere to go, he said.

Although the location of the hub had not yet been decided, Mukorombindo said it would preferably be somewhere between the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology campus and the retail precinct, between Colombo and Madras streets.

Christchurch Central Development Unit director Warwick Isaacs said the unit was open to discussing the concept.

However, he believed that while diversity and ethnic businesses would be important in the new CBD, they would naturally appear there without having to set aside a specific area.

Christchurch City Council urban renewal senior planner Michael Fisher said the concept was exciting because it had been part of the draft central city plan.

"It's exciting that the community is taking it on."

Fisher said the council was working to support the CBA in developing the idea.

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However, he believed it was still possible as a project driven by the private sector and the community.

The CBA does not own the land and hopes to get developers and landowners on board.

It will hold a presentation on November 20 at Middleton Grange School from 7pm to 8pm for the city council and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, as well as local developers and landowners who might be interested.

Contact Taz Mukorombindo 03 379 4222 or email taz@canterburybusiness.org.nz.

Businesses keen on hub idea

Basing language schools in one place in Christchurch would bring vitality back into the CBD, Wilkinson's English Language School principal David Wilkinson says.

"[The hub] will create a place for people to pop in and stroll around and meet friends for a coffee. Back when we were by the [Cathedral] Square, students generated a lot of business when they went out for lunch."

Joeseph Miranda, of Kinara Indian Restaurant, said he would be happy to go back to the central city as part of the international hub.

"It will be better for the people of Christchurch and better for businesses for people to have options. They can get everything in one shot."

John Jiang, owner of Acucentre, an acupuncture and Chinese therapeutic massage clinic, said the hub was a really good idea.

"It would be good for international tourism. More people would come to see it. It's very appealing to tourists to have a place with all the specialty shops from every ethnic group. Apart from locals going there during the weekend, tourists would also go there a bit more."

Jiang lost his clinic in the CBD after the earthquakes. It had been next to the now demolished Bank of New Zealand building. He was keen to move back into the central city when it reopened, he said.

His main concern was the high rent, and he felt a government subsidy for small businesses would help them move back to the CBD.

"Most ethnic businesses are small businesses. Without government subsidies, they wouldn't be able to survive in the CBD if the rent's too high."

In a survey of more than 50 ethnic businesses carried out for the Canterbury Business Association by 180 Degrees Consulting, based at Canterbury University, 90 per cent of business owners felt having an international hub was a good idea.

- The Press

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