Hamilton central-city retail space sits empty
Twenty per cent of ground level central Hamilton retail space is empty.
Local shop owners are blaming lack of free parking and rising costs, while business leaders are pointing fingers at absentee landlords, sub-standard buildings and an inability to compete with lower rents at The Base.
To quantify what the average shopper sees, the Waikato Times counted all groundfloor premises in the block within Hood St, Victoria St, Angelsea St and Liverpool St, finding that of 524 premises, the 104 empty ones outnumbered the 67 locally owned and operated stores in the area.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker acknowledged the CBD needed desperate attention, and said council was taking a "holistic approach" to the problem.
"Since 1970 there has been a demise of the Hamilton CBD and sadly no one turned their mind to the CBD and what needs to happen there."
Accent on Magazines owner Bruce Jackson, who has been in business 15 years, said he expected to call it quits at the end of his lease in Alexandra St.
"It's disastrous. This street used to be quite vibrant and had some quite big stores . . . and the stream of passing public was quite strong," said Jackson.
"I've got a lease for another 14 months, and I think that will be the end for me. The costs are too high. Everything else is going up - power, telephone, insurance - the whole lot is edging up all the time and your income's going down."
The Times' figures weren't far off a January 2015 Retail Vacancy Survey by Telfer Young, which revealed a total of 120,700 square metres of retail space in Hamilton CBD was vacant - or 18.6 per cent.
Hardaker disputed the Times' figures, citing latest information provided to council from NAI Harcourts and CBRE which listed central city retail vacancies in December 2014 at 9.8 per cent.
Hardaker said the Central City Transformation Plan, now in its drafting stages, would be out for viewing in May or June and intended to take a "comprehensive approach to fixing the CBD".
"For the city centre to be successful it must be commercially and economically successful and over the last few decades most reports have focused on physical changes, so we have started with an economic analysis and looked at the trend since 2001 in terms of the economy."
Hardaker said some of the vacancies could be attributed to seismic strengthening.
"We have an over-supply of D and E-grade buildings and there's a demand for B-grade level."
The problem wasn't lack of tenants, but lack of quality buildings for them to rent, said Sandy Turner, general manager of Hamilton Central Business Association.
"I'm getting four or five calls a month from appropriate tenants, but we don't have the stock at the right level."
Turner said absentee landlords, including those who own buildings freehold or are elderly, didn't invest in their buildings.
"We have a lot of beautiful old buildings in Hamilton and they've been owned for a long time, but they're not costing [the owner] any money, so they're not a priority."
Florist Gail Jones had been in the flower business in Hamilton for 51 years with her Worley Place store. When she arrived, the city was a destination.
"Victoria St was the golden mile. You had to pay huge key monies to get in, but it was busy.
"I've got a very strong business because of how long I've been here. . . . a lot of my business comes from outside the city. But the city is dead and for anyone new to start, they've got no chance."
The Times survey revealed at least of a quarter of the CBD was dependant on eateries or bars as the area continued to struggle against the changing face of retailing and competition from The Base and Chartwell.
Jones wanted to see council investing in the central district,helping to fill buildings, instead of investing in new projects.
"The city works on people. We've only got the 'scruffies' here because nobody is there and they can get away with it. If it was a thriving business [area] they wouldn't be there."
She added an hour's free parking would draw people in.
Hardaker said council had set aside budget to upgrade parking technology in the CBD and "once the budget is signed off in June, we will be getting work done on that," but free parking was not on the cards.
Colin Jones, of Commercial and Industrial Consultants, said the CBD would come right in time. "It's the private industry that has to rejuvenate the CBD, but there hasn't been the incentives financially for the private sector to spend money on their property."
WATCHMAKER SAYS TIME'S UP FOR SHOP
Robyn and Geoff Bryant of Bryant's Watch Centre have shut up shop after 42 years in Hamilton's CBD. Photo: Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ
After four decades mending timepieces in the central city, the hour is up for Hamilton's last standing watchmaker.
Geoff Bryant and his wife Robyn have operated Bryant's Watch Centre in the central city for 42 years, but shut the doors for the last time on Tuesday after calling time on their Victoria St shop.
The mending business will still operate out of the Bryant's basement in Maeroa, but Geoff said it was time to say goodbye to the retail store and the city.
He said the key reason was Robyn's ailing health - she needs a back operation - but added rising rents and the vacancy signs in the CBD were factors in their departure.
"I think there's been a lot of influences [on us closing the shop], the rent hasn't helped," Robyn said.
Geoff said he'd come to accept that his profession was dying, thanks to budget throwaway watches and increasingly hard-to-source parts.
When the Bryant's arrived in Hamilton in 1972, Geoff estimated there were about 18 watchmakers in Hamilton.
"I would liken us to 19th Century blacksmiths - there used to be one of us on every corner, now we're the only one."
For that reason, the business has thrived. But Geoff said customers complained about lack of parking, and the empty shops nearby were a warning sign.
Online shopping had also given the retail side a hammering, and customers had become a lot more demanding over the years, he said.
"It's a bit sad, although we will carry on outside the public eye, it's the end of an era."
- Waikato Times