16 Mar 2023

Auckland CBD bouncing back from lockdowns: ''There's a vibe and a buzz around the city'

6:58 am on 16 March 2023

By Jordan Dunn

AUCKLAND, NZ - MAY 29:Traffic on Queen street with the Skytower in the background on May 29 2013.It's a major commercial thoroughfare in the Auckland CBD, New Zealand's main population center.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Simon Bridges said reducing crime should be priority number one. Photo: 123rf.com

After years of construction, crime and lockdowns in Auckland, some businesses in the CBD say they are witnessing the city's long overdue comeback.

Business organisation Heart of the City said Auckland hit its highest foot traffic in three years - 200,000 people in a single day - at the start of March.

It also said more than 25 new hospitality and retail businesses had opened in the past six months.

Lylo Hostel general manager Tim Alpe said he had seen the return of people to the Auckland CBD first-hand.

"Having foreign tourists in here just lifts everything. You can feel it, whether it's in the bars, in the cafes, in the hotels and properties like ours… there's a vibe and a buzz around the city which hasn't been here for a while."

Lylo opened in December 2022. Alpe said they built the budget accommodation provider with confidence the Auckland CBD would eventually turn around.

"It really suffered as a result of Covid-19 and definitely, crime was an issue, but it's always going to be [an] incredibly important part of the tourist arrival into the country."

Four months on, he said it had definitely paid off.

"It's just blown our expectations, it's been amazing. We're running at near-capacity each night."

Harry Cai is the general manager at Guangzhou Hotpot on Queen Street, one new businesses in the CBD. He said the foot traffic on the city's main drag was a stark comparison to what it had been the past few years.

"Everything's changed now. Especially in 2023, you now see lots of people on Queen Street walking, no matter if it's daytime or night time… we've got all kinds of people."

But some of the city's problems have persisted.

"The inside of the city is not really [safe], so we are happy to pay by ourselves to hire a security guard to make sure my customers, they are [safe] here," Cai said.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Simon Bridges said reducing crime should be priority number one in the effort to restore the central city.

"A survey we did of businesses not so long ago surprisingly, in a sense, crime came out as the top issue," Bridges said.

"The problem with crime from a business perspective is its uncertainty. It's a sense that your workers don't feel safe… in the last 24 hours, there's been a homicide on the street that I work on."

Bridges was not yet fully convinced the city had bounced back.

"A lot of reasons for optimism, but safety, antisocial behaviour, the infrastructure transport issue, these are some of the things that still need to be resolved for a truly significant comeback."

Simon Bridges talks to journalists after Judith Collins loses the National party leadership

Simon Bridges. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Acting area commander Grae Anderson said police anticipated more people coming back to the city.

"We are still seeing excessive alcohol consumption as a common factor amongst these reports, particularly near bars and other entertainment venues."

On the streets, pedestrians were happy with the city's changes - but some were left desiring more.

"We like the changes," said one woman returning from her new Sydney home. "One thing we do notice though is the traffic - unbelievable."

"It's really bloody amazing compared what it used to be," said another, who has been a local for more than 20 years.

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