'Absolute hell': CBD upgrade delay frustrates retailers

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has produced this artist's impression of how Lower Beach St...
The Queenstown Lakes District Council has produced this artist's impression of how Lower Beach St, Queenstown, will look after a CBD streets upgrade project is completed. IMAGE: QLDC
Delays in delivering a $60 million central business district upgrade in Queenstown have retailers asking why it is taking so long.

Two years after ground was broken on the Lower Beach St section, it is still not finished.

Absoloot Hostel manager Chris Manuel, who has a shop in Lower Beach St, said "it’s been absolute hell".

"It’s been worse than Covid, a lot of it."

Just recently, water to Lower Beach St apartments was shut off for several nights after a water main apparently burst.

Manager Carolyn Hill, who had advised water would be off for a night, said "people who had paid extremely good money for a holiday could only wash in dirty water".

"People found coming to Queenstown was a very second-rate experience."

Queenstown Lakes District Council property and infrastructure manager Peter Hansby said although work on a section of Beach St had taken longer than anticipated because of the amount of Three Waters upgrading required, the overall project was actually ahead of schedule and should be completed by March.

Peter Hansby. Photo: supplied
Peter Hansby. Photo: supplied
A common complaint was the project should have been staged, but he suggested businesses had wanted the project done as quickly as possible.

A staged approach would have taken longer, Mr Hansby said.

However, there was little scope for consultation with businesses at the start.

"This was a shovel-ready project, so in order to receive government funding, which was significant [$35 million], we had to start at speed."

Trond Johansson, who had just moved his jewellery store into The Mall, said the project had lacked consultation.

"I don’t think anyone was consulted about what was going to happen downtown."

Parts would be dug up then left for weeks "because they didn’t have enough people," he said.

There were times he had to help customers into his store as the ground was so unstable.

"There were times I just closed the shop and went for a walk because of that digging — it just drives you ... mad."

His business occupied space formerly rented by children’s clothing retailer Shirley Popenhagen.

Ms Popenhagen said she felt for affected businesses "extremely", but as a resident of more than 30 years was also "appalled a project of 200m long can take so long".

"Who’s managing this project? What are they up to?"

Long-time Lower Beach St gallery owner Julia Milley said the street works had been "incredibly disruptive", and she was surprised so many retailers in her street were still in business.

"I guess they did the best they could, but when you see them out there for a few days and then no-one, because they moved round the corner, it’s like, ‘Why don’t you finish one spot?’

Wilkinsons Pharmacy co-owner Tim Judkins, who was also critical of the lack of pre-consultation with businesses, believed the upgrade project would be underpinned by a parking building on the CBD periphery, which was not now going ahead.

Mr Hansby said the council had done its best to deliver a good project for the town.

"Given the impacts of Covid, supply chain challenges ... I think we’ve done our best to deliver a good project for Queenstown, and while it’s been painful in the delivery phase, hopefully people will enjoy the finished product," he said.

Not only was the project ahead of schedule, he believed it would be on budget.

Although there had been limited time to consult with businesses beforehand, the council had closely consulted with them throughout the project — "I don’t think we could have done any more".