Over the last 9 years I have been watching, reading, attending meetings/workshops, writing and submitting on the endless flurry of initiatives by the CCC, Development Christchurch Ltd, Regenerate, Otakaro, ChCh NZ, CCBA (Central City Business Association) as a long term small business owner in the CBD.
It has become apparent that the new Christchurch CBD is not developing as promised, if one listens to the torrents of official words and reads between the lines.
Like any business owner I have kept myself up to date on what is happening in my home patch, (the south side of the CBD). The following are my observations based on numerous CBD rambles.
When CERA/CCDU et al made up their minds to reduce the size of the CBD, they deliberately compartmentalised it by creating barrier streets. They had this idea that we should have small precincts. We should be thankful they recognised that business areas have individual characters, even that was a miracle. The official policy, the planned shrinkage of the CBD has been devastatingly effective, with in my view negative consequences. The changes to the roading layouts, the narrowing of lanes (ie St Asaph Street), changes to the one ways , complicated berms etc that has made driving into the CBD an exercise in perseverance.
However, the earthquakes, demolitions and lack of tenants has had a far greater influence in reducing the CBD size.
I am struck by a number of issues. I am keeping my observations to the south side as that is my area of interest.
Cashel Street – It was planned to be our prime retail strip. The area is looking tired and dated. Have you seen the state of the seating and the pavers? The building owners have invested heavily in the area with the Farmers market/Food hall, being the latest development. The new Ballantyne’s development is very nearly completed.
Where is the CCC commitment to ensuring the public space reflects the investments made in what is supposed to be our premier retail strip? The area needs a make over!
(The foot Traffic in Cashel Street, it has been reported, has seen a 40% increase flowing back through the city, according to the foot traffic counters, since the opening of the Farmers Market. (CHCH Central City Business Association). But: What was the base number it has started off from?
Cashel Mall is scruffy.
Cashel Mall seating is tired and needs a steam clean.
CASHEL MALL 10am Friday
-I have also observed on a number of occasions that Cashel Street may have a number of lunch time pedestrians passing through BUT many of the retail shops had few customers. It does not look like they are as well supported as we all would have hoped and the official hype is telling us. The locals do not usually go to Cashel Street to shop.
-For the locals: There is a brand new Farmers, where we can buy socks and T shirts etc on Moorhouse Ave, where we can park for free. And the malls have any other basic amenity stores that we need.
The question in the CBD is: If we can not attract the locals in large numbers then how is it going to survive and grow? I suspect the answer is: as a Service area for business, Hotels and a small retail strip for the Tourists.
Lichfield Street/Tuam Street: The new two street “buffer zone” separate Lower High Street and it’s surrounds from the Cashel/Colombo Streets retail shopping block.
My observation is that Lower High Street and SALT, (St Asaph, Lichfield and Tuam Streets, or a shortened version of South Alternative) needs to orientate itself as a destination area with its primary relationship being St Asaph Street and the area south to Moorhouse Ave. There is a lot of unrecognised renovation work happening in this area. Note: it is the existing industrial buildings that are being re-purposed as an affordable alternative for the Christchurch small businesses. (The only reason this area survived post quake was that it was outside CERA’s CBD cordon.) It makes you wonder if the city should have been repaired rather than hurriedly demolished. But I would say that!
Looking at the specific Streets.
a. Lichfield Street, (the west block). The positioning of the new Justice Precinct/Police station seems flawed On one side of the street we have a car parking building and the Justice/Police/Emergency services precinct on the other side. Crossing the street from the Riverside market near the Car Park is to take your life in your hands, there is no safe crossing point in the middle of that block. The lay out seems to have created a service area (Just passing through) that seems somehow unattractive. (I am not refering to the buildings but the feel of it.)
looking west on Lichfield St on the left is the Justice Precinct. No reason to go here!
In the Lichfield Street Bus depot block: Again on one side of the block you have a supermarket with painted in-filled windows, a car parking building and an alley way to the Crossing, on the other side a large bus depot. There is something “industrial” about walking through there. (Not helped by the two “dirty thirty” buildings, near the Manchester Street corner). Again it has become a service street.
Lichfield St, The Bus depot on the right hand side.
Car park on the left hand side.
Uninviting Street frontage, Lichfield Street.
B: Tuam Street. If you walk along Tuam street, again you are struck by the positioning of the ECAN Building and the back Working entrance of the Bus depot. (As well as the lack of progress on 3 “dirty thirty’s” on the Manchester/Tuam Corners.) It is also an uninviting service street only at this stage.
Tuam Street, no reason to go here, just passing through! Ecan on the left, Bus Depot on right.
Ecan on Lichfield Street, Just passing through, no reason to be here.
Now let’s talk about Manchester street.
Another barrier was created between the central city and the East side. A wide boulevard (with currently large areas of green spaces). This is the area that is supposed to be the start of the central city revival with 20,000 people housed and living in the CBD. There is sluggish demand for the 3 level, small apartments and this area has not taken off. It is a great grassed area, peppered with art works, maybe a few monuments are called for?
Manchester St Looking North. Nothing to see here. Just passing through.
I suspect that Cashel Street and the newly created CBD will become a Tourist and Hotel area only. Filled with cafes and Bars and souvenir shops (and too many coffee shops).
The locals will come into the CBD on occasion but really it is easier to shop on Moorhouse Avenue or any suburban mall of their choice.
Retail has become or is becoming a secondary function in the CBD. (The sharp operators are saying that online shopping is their primary role with the retail shop a secondary demonstration /promotion space.)
A barrier has been created between (lower) High Street and the Retail Strip in the CBD. It is irreversible.
High Street is Bohemian with much more character, it is finally developing a life of its own. It has a fast developing, quirky, innovative “left bank” feel.
This is similar to the High Street that we had, loved and now have redeveloped.
We have: Ice cream shop, second hand shop, bakeries, Bars, Restaurants, Little High, Architects, Lawyers, Hair dressers, barbers, bridal shops, clothes shops, Tattoo Studio, Vape shop, to name just a few. Exactly the distinctive type of shops that bring the locals specifically into our patch. All we need is more close parking opportunities. The loss of multiple parks on St Asaph Street and surrounding streets is a deterrent to Christchurch Residents as it restricts their ability to drop by and enjoy our ever changing character.
I suspect that any general CBD marketing initiatives that the CCBA and ChristchurchNZ might come up with will not be entirely effective in our area.
We will have to develop our own distinct marketing that reflects our character, “grain” (the architects use this word) flavour and grit. The customers in the High Street/Salt district are not the same as the other “client” customers in the CBD. The marketing messaging should reflect our special bohemian vibe!
If you attempt to corral lower High Street into some artificial marketing construct the locals will shrug, carry on and mutter something like “tell him he’s dreaming”! (Respect to The Castle.)