Push to liven up 'dowdy' George St

A new group of central Dunedin retailers and building owners plans to drag the spotlight back to a George St shopping precinct it says is "very dowdy and tired and underinvested in''.

The group plans to hire a manager, run events and lobby the Dunedin City Council to invest in the area from the Octagon to Frederick St, including St Andrew St.

It is also keen to keep retail out of the warehouse precinct.

Spokesman Simon Eddy, also general manager of the Golden Centre Mall, said significant retail and office vacancies in the "golden block'' of George St, bounded by Hanover and St Andrew Sts, sparked the call for the new initiative, Heart of Dunedin.

"I think Dunedin possibly is seen as being a little bit out of the way by some retailers.

"What we do see across the country is when groups like Heart of Dunedin are established and there's good cohesion in the city centre, that does make those cities attractive to retailers coming in.''

The entrance of Topshop in Auckland and David Jones in Wellington were examples of what could be done.

"One of the factors that such retailers always talk about is city centre activity and cohesion.''

Mr Eddy said the group was strongly opposed to moves to allow retail outlets in the warehouse precinct.

He said Heart of Dunedin supported projects in the precinct, but had opposed small-scale retail there during the council's second generation district plan consultation.

"That is something that Heart of Dunedin has made a submission on already and is strongly against.''

There were good things happening culturally in the warehouse district and in heritage buildings "but it's quite obvious there are some projects at the moment that are getting more attention than others''.

An important point of difference for Dunedin was it did not have major shopping areas outside the city centres like other cities did.

"It is a slippery downhill slope moving retail out of the traditional heart of the city.

"We do feel that the traditional retail hub has maybe been forgotten about.''

Asked whether rents in the central city were too high, as the Otago Daily Times had heard from retailers, Mr Eddy said Heart of Dunedin wanted to be a partnership.

Instead of seeing retailers in one camp, landlords in another, and the city council in another, the group would prefer to get those groups together to discuss improving the sector.

"Absolutely rent is a factor, but is it the only factor?

"Absolutely not.''

Mr Eddy said in the next six months the group would appoint a town centre manager, paid for by a subscription of $300 from members and input from other potential funders.

Events could be once a month late-night Fridays in summer where George St was closed to traffic, with retailers open, street performers, food vendors and perhaps a movie being shown on the street.

He said there needed to be a synergy between retailers in George St and restaurateurs in the Octagon, providing people "reasons to come for a whole experience''.

He said a report last year by Bayleys Real Estate showed that in Dunedin, like many other provincial centres, big retailers in the city's retail heart are leaving due to changing consumer habits and the need for larger floor areas.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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