CBD investment call as spaces remain empty

Greater investment in Oamaru’s central business district and discussions about how to create a positive retail environment in the town need to happen sooner rather than later, Otago Chamber of Commerce North Otago advisory board chairman Stephen Halliwell says.

Last  week, the Otago Daily Times counted 12  street-level retail and office spaces  in Thames St, between Itchen St and Usk St, left vacant because of closure or relocation.

Some premises have been vacant for several months or in some cases, years.

Oamaru’s Postie Plus store and Oamaru Pet Supplies have closed within the last three months and both spaces remain vacant.

Several other businesses have either relocated to other Thames St premises or moved to buildings in other streets, including Neat Feet, One Agency, Arm Candy, Waitaki Financial Services (Coquet St) and Vivo Hair Salon (Eden St).

Thames St spaces that have been vacant for more than six months include the premises between Noodle Canteen and Westpac, next door to Victor Nelson Cycles, the space beside the former Waitaki Financial Services building, another space next to Noel Leeming and part of Macallan House, where Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean’s  office was formerly based.

Mr Halliwell said while the chamber felt Oamaru was performing well in terms of investment in "small and medium manufacturing" spaces and the likes of the PlaceMakers development in Humber St and Poshtel development at the corner of Eden and Thames Sts, that did not extend to main street retail.

"I guess there will be some natural turnover in retail, but we can’t ignore the fact the retail environment is changing with the advent of the internet and that sort of thing. We need to have some regard to that in our future plans for the CBD."

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the number of empty spaces was not ideal, but was part of a wider trend that had been seen nationally.

Some businesses were performing well and others "not so much", Mr Kircher said.

"We certainly want all our businesses to be thriving and it really depends on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it as to how well they’re going. You have certainly got some good operators struggling because of the business that they’re in and that’s really unfortunate."

As part of a submission to the Waitaki District Council on its 2018-28 long-term plan, the chamber recommended the council include CBD development projects to create a positive retail environment.

"The last time we had a significant council investment in the CBD ... would have been the heritage lights and black street furniture that went in in the late ’90s. The things that make a quality retail environment might be different from 20 years ago," Mr Halliwell said.

Mr Kircher said through the long-term plan, the council had reduced the costs involved with running a business and was able to contribute to the CBD in other ways, including its appearance and atmosphere.

Mr Halliwell said the chamber needed to discuss exactly what kind of retail environment would fit Oamaru the best.

"What is the right retail environment we want to create so our retailers can be successful and so our community want to shop local is a discussion the chamber believes we should start thinking about. There probably needs to be a round of investment sometime in the near future."

The chamber supported retailers though seminars and training sessions in areas including online sales and how to create the best environment for shopping, he said.

daniel.birchfield@odt.co.nz

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