13 September 2016

Invercargill mayoral candidates to debate ‘frustrating’ CBD progress

The Southland Times

Sluggish progress on the Invercargill upgrade is frustrating businesses, and a retail expert says mayoral candidates are too quiet on the issue.

First Retail Group Ltd managing director Chris Wilkinson said many city businesses had contacted him, frustrated the CBD was not growing at the same rate as other cities.

Inner city progress was not firmly on the political agenda as it was in other parts of New Zealand, Wikinson said.

“Invercargill’s mayoral candidates have been very quiet on CBD issues - instead been continually distracted by the Christmas light debacle and other other legacy issues,” Wilkinson said.

“The continuing retrospect is holding the city back from real potential ahead.”

Mayoral hopefuls needed to promote growth with a dynamic inner city strategy, Wilkinson said.

“Candidates needed to look forward and define their vision and roadmaps for the future of Invercargill’s heart.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said the slow rate of CBD rejuvenation was frustrating to many.

“We’re definitely behind other cities. However the SoRDS recommendations once released, should accelerate matters, particularly if supported actively by the incoming council.”

Carey was confident the mayoral candidates had CBD issues as a high priority.

Getting information across could be difficult and was often be overshadowed by “headline grabbers”, like the Christmas lights, Carey said.

The chamber’s mayoral debate, to be held on Wednesday, had a section with questions provided by CBD businesses.

The chamber partnered with TAPtv to provide candidate video profiles, on which the only mayoral candidate to address the CBD was Tom Conroy, Carey said.

However, when interviewing 29 council candidates about 70 per cent had CBD rejuvenation as a priority, she said.

Invercargill City Council city centre co-ordinator Kari Graber said empty city stores were the biggest concern to businesses.

“They just really want to see things happening, and they want change.”

Businesses wanted the rest of the city centre upgrade to progress, but were nervous because the upgrade of Esk St took so long, Graber said.

“We need to focus on getting everyone on the same page, and listening to the retailers.”

Mayoral candidate Tom Conroy said CBD rejuvenation was his “number one priority”.

“It will be front and centre of my campaign.”

The Southland Regional Development Strategy’s work required support from the council, Conroy said.

“Council has a responsibility ... we can’t just wait for the big pieces to turn up. We need action now.”

Mayoral candidate Karen Arnold said CBD rejuvenation was not within her campaign because the SoRDS outcome would be available in November.

Arnold said her seat on the council allowed her to be privy to a number of inner city issues.

“The mayor for the next term is going to face leading the council in making sure we don’t lose momentum in the city,” she said.

“There’s some tough calls to be made.”

Mayor Tim Shadbolt said debate surrounding inner city issues could be low as there was “an agreement” on the state of the CBD.

“Everyone accepts that internet shopping is having a huge impact on the retail center.”

Big box retailers on the outskirts of the CBD had impacted smaller business, Shadbolt said.

Current discussion surrounded the establishment of the Invercargill Public Art collection in the CBD, he said.

“The city centre is shifting its nature from shopping to entertainment.”


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