15 Sep 2010

Hamilton CBD an election issue

11:13 am on 15 September 2010

The future of the central business district in Hamilton looks to be an issue in next month's elections.

Like many cities, the CBD appears to be dying at the expense of suburban shopping malls.

About 15% of inner city shops are vacant while at the same time two big shopping malls on the outskirts of town, Westfield at Chartwell and The Base, are expanding.

For one mayoral hopeful, Roger Hennebry, the answer is simple. He wants the council to create an incentive to encourage developers to have confidence in the city centre.

Mr Hennebry says the centre of town needs more office buildings full of people who will spend time and money in the CBD.

Another mayoral candidate, Julie Hardaker says the fact it's cheaper to set up businesses outside of the centre of the city needs to be addressed.

Current Mayor Bob Simcock says the city centre is being hit by a double whammy - the recession plus expanding retail space in the suburbs.

He says the council needs to have better control over where development is allowed and to change the rating system to encourage businesses back into town.

Differentiation needed

Tony McLauchlan who manages a commercial property business in Hamilton, Perry Property, says the CBD needs to differentiate itself from suburban shopping malls, not try and compete.

He says the CBD should be about attracting commercial office tenants by being competitive, which has not been the case for the last 10 years.

The council is going to spend almost $4 million on upgrading Garden Place, the city's actual centre, with its grass and concrete areas designed to encourage pedestrians.

Mr Simcock says it's part of a bigger plan to renew areas of the central city.

Mr Hennebry equates it to nothing more than 'moving the deck chairs' and says it won't achieve anything. Ms Hardaker agrees.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Central Business Association is working on plans to revitalise the CBD - including cheaper parking, and a branding exercise, promoting the city centre with the slogan - 'Something unique on every street'.