Searching for a beating heart within the city's lifeless centre

PAUL BARLOW
Last updated 10:33 01/04/2014
Hamilton's CBD
FAIRFAX NZ
CITY CENTRE: The CBD can only be revived if the public can be convinced that it's where they want to be.

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OPINION: I write a fair bit in support of the creative industries in Hamilton and about trying to find ways to revive the CBD and how the two could work together for the betterment of all. But the one thing I always seem to forget is that no matter how hard we try, the CBD can only be revived if you can convince the public that it's where they want to be.

We all seem to be failing at that.

The CBD's general ambience is tired, worn, unloved and, in many instances, desperate. I've already written that the area around Wintec in Alexandra St needs a clean, but there are other issues.

Cutting a driveway through a great shared space between Civic Plaza and Garden Place all but killed the shops there. And the transportable planter boxes there are already falling apart. A growing number of vagrants and homeless in Garden Place make the general public uneasy, and the constant and merciless parking wardens discourage people, too, especially when other shopping alternatives offer thousands of free parking spaces. If you want to see the look of someone determined to never visit the CBD again, watch what happens when you stick traffic wardens on the streets on a Sunday. Even then, good luck finding a park.

A new-look shopping centre, movie theatre, commercial area at Wintec and discount parking options haven't worked and the Hamilton Central Business Association feels like it's trying to make water flow uphill. No matter how passionate they are about the CBD, the message isn't being picked up by shoppers fast enough and the Hamilton City Council seems to be ignoring the association's advice, especially on parking.

The cold, hard reality is that, with the exception of a few destination stores, the CBD is stagnant and only survives by being the city's commercial hub.

The problem isn't easy to fix, though. Free giveaways and a million food options won't do it. And the problem with destination locations like the casino or the night market is that the visitor numbers aren't translating into a positive increase for surrounding businesses.

What we need to do is install some good old-fashioned pride in our city. But before we do that, we need to clean up the CBD and reintroduce it to Hamilton.

I'm not talking an expensive overhaul of the area, but something to get it tidy. Water-blast Wintec's wall, fix up the planters, get live music playing in Garden Place and learn to use that space effectively, instead of treating it as an excess piece of lawn that sometimes has a tent on it over summer when a mate stays. We need people thinking up new and creative ways to introduce the CBD back to the people of Hamilton - and show them that it's something to be proud of.

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Maybe we can look at the "Random Phandom" initiative Philadelphia is trying out - free tickets to major events. Shop in Casabella Lane and get free tickets to a Chiefs game. Wear Waikato colours in Garden Place and win Waikato Magic tickets. Attend an event like Balloons over Waikato, the Fielddays or Hamilton Armageddon and receive Northern Knights tickets.

This way we could help take that passion we Waikatoites are famous for when it comes to our sports and use it to help rebuild a passion in our CBD. Arm the traffic wardens and city safe patrols with the tickets, so they become less of a deterrent and more a welcome friend. Let them hand these out to the most passionate people they find in the CBD itself.

But don't rely on little ideas like this alone. As much as our council wants to deny it or hide from it, and as much as many others argue against it, until the CBD learns to compete on parking, until someone relinquishes the idea of fleecing every cent they can from Hamiltonian drivers, the CBD is doomed to to stagnate and suffocate.

- Waikato

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