Council plan for stores, CBD not on track

The Waitaki District Council building. Photo: ODT files
The Waitaki District Council building. Photo: ODT files
The Waitaki District Council’s goal to rejuvenate the business district and introduce a strategic master plan has fallen behind schedule.

Oamaru’s town centre is suffering from a series of empty store fronts. The issue caused the council last year to hire a dedicated place-making lead — a staff member dedicated to strategically improving public spaces.

But in its activity report, the council revealed the development of a master plan for the central business district and a plan to utilise vacant spaces were both behind schedule.

Council chief executive Alex Parmley acknowledged the town’s problem, with "increasing numbers of empty shops" that were proving challenging to fill with traditional retail.

When asked why the development of the master plan was behind schedule, Mr Parmley said community engagement was taking more time and resources than originally estimated.

Placemaking was a new concept and the initial focus was on stakeholder engagement and education.

The plan was expected to be completed in the first or second quarter of this year and would cost $50,000.

It would provide an "umbrella blueprint" to draw together existing plans and efforts which did not quite connect, as well as identify projects for investment to ensure they had maximum impact.

When asked why the vacant space programme was behind schedule, he said the council wanted to take a long-term outlook and ensure the programme was sustainable over time.

Two spaces had been used for short-term pop-up uses, which provided valuable insight, he said.

When asked how the council would bring the two initiatives back on track, Mr Parmley said "delivery of the initiatives will bring [them] back on track".

He did not expand on this further.

He also defended the creation of the place-making role.

"The new place-making role has been instrumental in engaging communities, businesses and stakeholders in the CBD and other townships in the district, to take forward improvement actions"

For the first six months the place-making lead was focused on delivering a soup programme to the town, the Waitaki Souper Soup Sipper, he said.

Cafes and restaurants around town sold Waitaki-themed soups as part of the programme.

Ninety-two percent of the businesses recommended expanding the programme across the district for winter this year, he said.

The activation of the Oamaru CBD would be prioritised for the rest of the fiscal year.

The success of each of the initiatives had measurable outcomes and success metrics, which included community feedback, reduction in vacant spaces and the use and "vibrancy" of the town centre.

The efforts to rejuvenate the town related to the council’s $4.5 million transformation project, as the council would engage with communities and stakeholders more, he said.

Yesterday the council announced a second public workshop on the revitalisation, following from one in December.