Council eyes downtown space as nearby work ends

Wachner Pl’s future is being discussed by the Invercargill City Centre. Among those championing...
Wachner Pl’s future is being discussed by the Invercargill City Centre. Among those championing for a vibrant city centre are (from left) Invercargill City Centre Governance Group chairman John Green, Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark and Coin South general manager Cathy Peters. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT
The future of a central downtown space is up for discussion following the ongoing transformation of Esk St to bring Invercargill into the modern era.

As part of the Invercargill City Council’s "City with a Heart" project, the future of Wachner Pl has been discussed.

Invercargill City Centre Governance Group chairman John Green said as the work on Esk and Don Sts neared completion, the group was beginning to focus on how it could maintain momentum while maximising investments to tie developments together and continue the city’s regeneration process.

"It is still very early stages, there are currently no proposals in front of people, but there does need to be public input into this," Mr Green said.

"The thing people could be thinking about is, what sort of space would they like, to build on what’s been achieved in Esk St and Don St, that would create a place for people in the centre that could provide a permanent opportunity for entertainment and engagement."

There were three options for Wachner Pl — improving it as a gathering space, reopening it from Dee St through to Leven St, which would improve connection with the hotel being developed in the former Menzies Building that is due to open at the end of this year, or improve the area as a site for future development, he said.

Mayor Nobby Clark said as it stood, Wachner Pl was a "waste of space", and he wanted to see it better used, especially in regards to being a place for public gatherings.

He said he would like to see the whole area redesigned, and possibly covered, to make it possible to set up a large screen to show sports games and stage public events.

"Potentially, maybe redesign the alcohol licensing around the CBD, which currently doesn’t allow people to sit outside and drink alcohol.

"We could make it so with Wachner Pl, people could pick up a stubbie from a premises and get their pizzas and what else they can get there, and be able to sit there and enjoy the company of other people."

Mr Clark imagined something similar to Riverside Market alongside the Avon River in Christchurch, where there were small eateries along the embankment.

"You don’t tend to get the hoon factor there. I’ve spoken to the police about that, and they seem to think it doesn’t create many problems.

"At the moment, what people do in the city on Friday and Saturday night is they tend to drive around and around and around in cars with a sober driver and people drink in the back seat — so we’ve got to provide something a bit more mature than that."

Coin South general manager Cathy Peters said a vibrant central business district contributed to make the city an effective place for people to run businesses.

"[Wachner Pl has] previously been quite an under-utilised space.

"Even over the last couple of years, by having Starbucks in that space temporarily, and some of the artwork ... and outdoor seating by some of the food retailers has definitely added some vibrancy."

Southland Business Chamber chief executive officer Sheree Carey said any upgrades to the flow and feel of the CBD which would encourage a business-friendly environment were welcomed. "We look forward to the council making a decision on this ASAP to ensure the momentum of the inner-city upgrade is kept moving forward."