Empty shops a red flag for Tauranga residents
Tauranga residents are concerned the CBD is becoming a “suburb of the Mount” amid a growing number of vacant shops in the city centre.
There are currently 51 empty shops between Devonport, Grey Street and the strand with 30 vacant spaces on Devonport Road alone.
Retired school principal and Tauranga resident Ross Bishop says the CBD is basically a ghost town because nothing’s happening.
“Of the shops that are open nobody’s in them, there’s no vibrancy. There’s no life, it’s dead. Why would you want to come here when there’s so many other alternatives? Where’s the music? Where’s the vibrant sounds?”
He says when he counted the vacant shops only two years ago, there were only about 20.
Deidre, another resident, says it’s pretty demoralising to see the shops get less and less.
She says the city’s all a bit disconnected because the council haven’t thought about traffic control.
“You can’t drive through Red Square and do a loop around town.”
She says thanks to the malls, there are no people in the city centre.
“There needs to be vibrancy otherwise Tauranga loses its identity and risks becoming a suburb of the Mount.”
Downtown Tauranga chair Brian Berry says the empty shops are thanks to a number of reasons- including buildings being earthquake prone, a lack of vision from the city council, Covid, the cancellation of the cruise ship season, and the lack of an international scale hotel and convention centre.
“A clear council-led Vision for the CBD is required and that Vision needs to be committed to, so that the private sector (both commercial property owners, developers, and businesses) can make investment decisions without the risk of the rug being pulled out from under their feet.”
“Prior to Covid-19, due to council indecision and flip flopping on decision-making, retailers in the CBD have been reluctant to invest in their businesses and several (especially major retail chains) have withdrawn from the CBD.
“Covid-19 gave some national retail chains an easy out to withdraw.”
Additionally, the cancellation of the cruise ship season (partial in the 2019/20 shoulder and total in the 2020/21 shoulder) has meant that circa 21,000 cruise ship passengers were not transported from the Port into the CBD.
He says unfortunately the fiasco of the Harington Street Transport Hub has further reinforced the community’s perception of the CBD and, by association, has further tarnished the council’s reputation.
“The plan for the intensification of the Te Papa Peninsula is very encouraging and already we have seen developments such as the Latitude Apartments completed and the Farmers site redevelopment started and well underway.”
He says the CBD deserves better support from the community as what it really needs, is more people living in or very near to the CBD.
“The community perception is stay away from the CBD as it’s a ghost town, you can’t get a car park and so on.
“We have currently got over the issue of paid roadside parking in the CBD, but we still face the hurdle of shoppers wanting to park beside where they want to shop. That is a small-town mentality.”
Tauranga City Council strategy and growth general manager Christine Jones says there are a number of strategies council are in the process of implementing in order to revitalise the CBD.
These include the Te Papa Spatial Plan (actions to encourage residential development, more people and discretionary spending and improved transport options), the City Centre Strategy (strategic investment in community spaces, such as the Wharf Street precinct, the Durham Street University precinct and the forthcoming Elizabeth Street upgrade) and the Transport Systems Plan (improved multi-modal access).
She says there are a number of factors contributing to this situation, including the availability of alternative retail facilities like Tauranga Crossing and Bayfair; the growth of online shopping; the absence of a major retail anchor in the CBD (until the new Farmers store opens) and the impacts of Covid.
“Despite this, we are continuing to see investment in and around the city centre, providing for both more residents and employees in the coming years, which will add positively to the local economy.”
Christine says it’s important we see our city centre as a destination, with pedestrian-friendly streets that encourage people to move around on foot and enjoy public spaces such as Red Square, the new Wharf Street precinct and the waterfront.
“Typically, within a central business district, the focus is on providing connections and space for pedestrian movement and place making.”
She says vehicle movement to the city centre remains important too and how this can be supported while prioritising pedestrians and place making will be further considered through ongoing city centre planning work.
She says funding priorities specifically include supporting events in the city centre, as a way to encourage visitation and add vibrancy to the heart of Tauranga.
“Music events are also eligible to apply for financial support, providing they meet the fund specific criteria.
“We are very happy to guide any organisation that wants to deliver an outdoor music event in the CBD on Council-owned land, through the event approval process and provide any specialist support required to ensure a safe and successful event.”
Christine says council envisages the city centre continuing its transition from a traditional, low-density retail and service centre to a multi-use, high-density commercial, civic, cultural and residential centre.