Heart's health needs care

Queenstown businessman Mark Quickfall says the Queenstown Lakes District Council must be wise in its decision-making  to ensure the resort's CBD remains vibrant and accessible.  Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
Queenstown businessman Mark Quickfall says the Queenstown Lakes District Council must be wise in its decision-making to ensure the resort's CBD remains vibrant and accessible. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.

How can Queenstown's CBD be preserved so it remains the resort's heart?

Most people seem to agree - development at Frankton will probably be only positive for the resort, creating jobs, stimulating the economy and providing a wider retail offering.

However, there is a risk: with rental prices at Frankton less than a quarter of those in the Queenstown CBD, some business owners may be tempted to relocate to Frankton.

If specialist, long-standing, locally owned retail stores chase cheap rents at Frankton, will Queenstown ultimately become a town full of bars, cafes and restaurants?

It does seem unlikely, given the demand for sites in the CBD is such that there is, at least anecdotally, a queue of businesses waiting to get their slice of the pie.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden said everyone had a part to play to ensure the CBD remained vibrant, diverse and continued to thrive - that meant those who live, work and play in the resort as well as those who owned commercial sites.

Resort businessman Mark Quickfall - a tenant, landlord and commercial building owner - said while landlords wanted returns on their investments, it was important rents did not become cost-prohibitive for tenants.

''Landlords want a return, and you can't get one from an empty building.

''If you're too greedy, you get a high tenant turnover - a landlord is better with a tenant that's successful ... and is going to be long term.''

High demand, coupled with limited supply in the CBD, meant there was a risk rents could rise.

While Mr Quickfall said landlords needed a ''reasonable rent ... we don't want to get into a situation where the market drives the rent up''.

Although development at Frankton would enable services that were not necessarily appropriate for Queenstown, cheaper rental prices at Frankton might have an effect on the CBD.

''We're going to have to be careful with planning - Rotorua had developed big box [retailing] out of town - they have a lot of empty [businesses], about 99 in their central area, but Rotorua is a different model to Queenstown.''

Bayleys commercial sales and leasing specialist Marty Barwood said at present he was not aware of any available tenancies in the CBD, with spaces ''highly sought-after''.

Business owner Kim Wilkinson, who has interests in Queenstown and at Remarkables Park, believed the vibrancy of the CBD was, partly at least, reliant on ''responsible'' landlords.

''There's a realisation from many landlords that we can do it better ... I think there have been some rental hikes that perhaps haven't been justified,'' he said.

However, fellow business owner Ian Bell, of 45 South outdoor store, said landlords had a right to make money and, ultimately, it was a business owner's choice to pay the cost of being in the CBD.

Mr Bell said he had been in business 28 years, moving several times during the period, and was now in Shotover St.

Last year, he halved the size of his store and now, because of lower overheads, provided his product mix was right, he had a ''better bottom line''.

''It's up to people to afford to pay [the rentals] ... there are people queued up waiting to get into town.

''I, frankly, wouldn't be interested in going out to Frankton.''

At present, Mr Bell estimated 90% of his business came from tourists, so his products were geared towards them.

Provided CBD retailers were savvy with their product offerings, development at Frankton would not harm their bottom lines, he said.

However, all men agreed a key issue for the resort to overcome - sooner rather than later - was accessibility in the CBD.

Recently, the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce conducted a ''Downtown Revitalisation Survey'', seeking to identify the key issues facing businesses.

Chamber chief executive Ann Lockhart said businesses indicated three of the five major issues they faced related to accessibility - parking, traffic and transport.

Also of concern were high rentals and streetscaping.

Mr Quickfall said traffic management and public transport were vitally important for the continued success of businesses.

''The planning is paramount. There's no point if you drive into town, get locked up in traffic, eventually give up and go and shop somewhere else or online.

''We need to be planning for that today and not just waiting until it's too late.''

Since 2005, the Queenstown Lakes District Council has been working on access issues in and around the CBD, with the Inner Links project launched in 2008.

Its goals include bringing traffic into Queenstown via arterial routes to avoid the CBD and provide better access to existing and planned car parking.

Following a meeting in June, the council agreed to continue with the work, but defer ''the need for road construction beyond 2018''.

Perhaps until the council gets it right, Queenstown's heart may not pump as effectively as it otherwise could.