Queues from 4am as Centre Place revamp opens
ANDREA FOX AND CHRIS GARDNER
Shoppers queued from 4am to be among the first to check out the new $47 million Centre Place redevelopment.
Sisters Josephine Paul-Richardson, 24, and Jade Paul, 16, were first in line.
"We just saw on Facebook that they had 500 gift bags to give away. We came down at midnight to see if there was a line and there wasn't so went back home again," Miss Paul-Richardson said. "First in, first served."
"We used to shop here, until we had to pay for parking, then we started to go to The Base," Miss Paul-Richardson said.
"It seems like there's more here than at The Base now."
Nita Carter and her colleagues from Wintec's marketing department didn't bother to join the queue.
"We got here at 8.30am," she said. "It's only a goodie bag. We do need to have a look at the shops and see what's businesses are here. It's quite exciting."
But she thought the multi-million investment would be for nothing if free parking was not re-introduced in the city.
RIVALS WELCOME REVAMP
And far from triggering mall wars and retail bloodshed, today's opening is being welcomed by rivals The Base and Westfield Chartwell as a salute to Hamilton's burgeoning growth.
But whether the opening of the redeveloped former Downtown Plaza and Ward Street will be the transfusion the economic doctor ordered for the city centre is unlikely to be clear for a while.
City businessman and Property Council Waikato deputy president Graham Dwyer said it was "fantastic" that Centre Place owner, Kiwi Income Property Trust, was spending big money in the CBD, and all central city businesses were trying "to lift the bar".
"But you're never going to get a high street environment out of a mall redevelopment," he said.
To really bring the city to life, the public had to change its attitude to shopping.
"It will take more than an improved offer to bring the city alive."
People needed to start favouring less generic brands, found in shopping malls, and "revel in independent brands," more likely to be found in high street shopping, Dwyer said.
But Hamilton's central business watchdog said the city was already seeing benefits from a revitalisation push.
Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Sandy Turner said the new-look Centre Place was exactly what was needed.
"But the economic benefits have already started to snowball . . . the new PwC (office) development is already having an impact, and there's been the redevelopment of The Warehouse."
There had been "noticeable reinvigoration" with three new businesses opening a month in the CBD, and feedback from city retailers reported a more vibrant feeling. The Centre Place development offered the added bonus of unique retailers, not present in Hamilton's other centres, she said.
Meanwhile, operators of Westfield Chartwell and Te Awa and The Base have congratulated Centre Place.
Chartwell centre manager Sue Devonshire said the Kiwi property trust had done "a great job" and Hamilton needed a good CBD.
But comment on whether it would lure people to the CBD would be "pie in the sky".
"It's too early to say. It's a matter of time. They'll always have the office workers."
It would be six months before meaningful comment could be made, Ms Devonshire said. She believed the recent opening of the new Hoyts cinema complex in Centre Place would impact on Te Awa's cinema business more than Chartwell's. The Base owner, Tainui Group Holdings, said the refresh of the CBD would stimulate Hamilton's growth and was also a response to that growth.
Chief executive Mike Pohio said The Base and Te Awa were developed to draw people into Hamilton "rather than shift them within Hamilton".
"The CBD absolutely needed reinvestment, there are way too many old buildings that don't meet the market." Mr Pohio said the Centre Place revamp was another element in a series of CBD improvements which included Wintec and the PwC office building.
"Good on Kiwi (trust) for doing what needed to be done.
"Now it's up to others in the city to play their part in order to respond to today's customer demands."
New drawcards and developments in the CBD will bring extra pressure on car parking, Hamilton City Council has confirmed. But economic development general manager Sean Murray said the council's Knox St carpark is still not fully used.
It was a fact of life during growth in any CBD heart that parking came under pressure, and while new building developers were required to provide some parking, Hamilton people would also have to adapt to growth, Murray said. This included using public transport and parking precincts on the city outskirts.
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