Progress patchy, but businesses pushing ahead in Christchurch's new innovation and retail precincts

The Hoyts' EntX cinema complex is under construction in Colombo St.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The Hoyts' EntX cinema complex is under construction in Colombo St.

LIZ McDONALD finds plenty of life in central Christchurch's retail and innovation precincts.

It's lunchtime on the shortest day of the year. Winter sunshine has lured office and construction workers, shoppers and tourists onto the streets of central Christchurch's retail precinct.

On days like these, you can glimpse of how the fully rebuilt city centre could be. People are relaxing on the riverbank, enjoying spicy lunches at the container mall, sipping coffee in the ANZ Centre cafe, browsing in shops along Cashel St, and lounging in beanbags in the BNZ Centre square.

The Crossing development, pictured from Cashel St, is part of Christchurch's new retail precinct.
JOSEPH JOHNSON / STUFF

The Crossing development, pictured from Cashel St, is part of Christchurch's new retail precinct.

In both the retail and innovation precincts, construction must follow rebuild regulations. Approved activities only are permitted, and lanes between buildings must lead to off-street public squares.

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In the retail precinct's four blocks around Ballantynes corner, new buildings will contain upstairs offices whose workers will feed the tills of shops and cafes below.

The Terrace development at the edge of the retail precinct.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF

The Terrace development at the edge of the retail precinct.

Those buildings already finished show how the layouts will work, linking one set of buildings to another away from the street and providing arcades, lanes and sheltered squares to sit, shop, drink and eat, and people watch. 

In the shiny ANZ Centre, all the shops are occupied. Staff in the bigger BNZ Centre opposite say shoppers are increasingly finding them, but they are looking forward to the surrounding shops filling up. "Leased" stickers on windows show more are moving in. 

Nearby, the big Crossing development is heading towards spring completion and signs call for fashion store staff. The Terrace project is also moving towards a spring finish, and the Plymouth Lane building is well advanced. Construction on the Riverside farmers market development and Guthrey Centre build will start in summer. To complement the big projects, smaller ones alongside are pushing ahead.

Ash St in Christchurch's innovation precinct.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Ash St in Christchurch's innovation precinct.

By the end of the year, the retail precinct will reach tipping point when the open spots will outnumber the closed-off ones. Visitors then won't have to push on past the sound and smell of power tools to get to the next shop or coffee stop.

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New office workers moving in just across the river, and more due soon when the justice and emergency precinct opens, will help the little businesses survive.

A few blocks along in the innovation precinct, progress is more patchy. Spots of lively hospitality and neat corporate headquarters break up stretches of vacant space. The gaps between heritage buildings are slowly filling with new developments.

Here, too, the laneways are the key to creating a lively environment back off the street.

Around Poplar Lane and its small public square, new businesses are joining existing ones like Dux Central and Brick Farm catering for workers in the Vodafone and Kathmandu buildings.  

Across the road around another square behind the McKenzie and Willis facade, Little High Eatery and other hospitality venues are busy even on chilly days. There are vacant shops but new businesses such as TMR are moving in, with more to follow as the Duncan's buildings revamp and the Billens building replacement are finished.

On the triangular site opposite, only the C1 and Alice's building is open and the Excelsior rebuild remains stubbornly unbuilt.

In both the innovation and retail precincts, the full lanes and off-street squares concept will only make full sense when everything is finished, and the links all connect at both ground and first floor levels.

For now, signs point hopefully towards little shops and cafes tucked into corners, where trade remains quiet. There are still dead stretches on Colombo and High streets.

Both precincts were promised the support of thousands of residents in new east frame housing. Delays mean the fulfillment of this promise is still years away. 

For now, the businesses in both precincts must rely for patronage on office and construction workers and tourists, and hope that plenty of Christchurch residents are prepared to get out and support them.

 - Stuff

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