Following publication of the last Associated News I received comments from many people on my article ‘What is the future of our CBD?’ which focused on the advantages that were inherent (whether realised or not) in our Central Business District (CBD).
Fortunately the comments were all positive and I think it touched a nerve. In light of that, this article focuses on the possibilities that the CBD has. A few years back I was at a South Island conference listening to an experienced property developer. He commented that many council planning officials had vacationed in Europe and rightly marvelled at such centres as Venice, Florence and Barcelona. These places are true wonders of our planet. They then came back to New Zealand and dedicated the rest of their working lives to ensuring that nothing like that ever eventuated here!
This isn’t a dig at our councils, as I think that both the Western BOP District Council and the Tauranga City Council have looked at some of the challenges facing their respective areas in innovative ways. In Te Puke for instance, the council have driven forward a new commercial area anchored by New World. They have also installed an attractive walkway linking this to the CBD and are looking at a redesign of Jellicoe Street following completion of the Tauranga Eastern Link roading network. In Tauranga, the council implemented some new zonings in and around the CBD to try and stimulate development. However, notwithstanding the above, it does illustrate the principle that we do end up largely trying to shove the square peg of land planning rules through the round hole of reality.
My wife and I recently holidayed in France and spent a week or so in the city of lights, Paris. There are many reasons to visit France – the food, the wine, the outstanding natural scenery and the history. But it also occurred to me that deep down the French believe that what is most essential is the non-essential and that the non-essential is priceless. That is a large part of what gets stuck in our imagination of France. The opulence of the Chateau de Versailles. The superfluous decorations of the Opera Garnier. The ridiculous uselessness and beauty of the Eiffel Tower. Yet it is from such monuments as these that the French get a sense of pride. These constructions though were hugely controversial at the time.
Looking closer to home, the Sydney Opera House was fraught with controversy over cost blowouts and the original architect resigned. The projected cost was AUD$7 million. The actual cost was AUD$102 million (approximately $875 million in today’s terms). However, it now generates around $115 million in ticket sales each year. Whilst the net profit is far lower at around $8 million, the true economic benefit of this building to the Australian economy is much, much higher. A recent report by Delloite’s found that the opera house is estimated to be worth $4.6 billion to Australia. It contributes around $775 million to the Australian economy each year and supports almost 8,500 full time equivalent jobs (directly and indirectly). These are astounding statistics. So what does all this mean for us in Tauranga? One of the themes from my last article was that we need to think outside the box.
Is a city just a conglomeration of people grouped together to engage in commerce with each other? No, it’s obviously more than that. Our CBD needs to look at what it can provide that our malls cannot. I’m not suggesting a Tauranga Opera House. But there are things we can look at that may not be as costly. A good example is the Battle of Gate Pa walkway on the grounds of St Georges Church in Gate Pa. This area has an excellent series of information boards, carvings and other items that come together to tell the story of this event which was seminal in the wars of that period and therefore the history of New Zealand. What can we do in the CBD that leverages off the (often ignored) history we have? Are there other initiatives that can be undertaken such as walkways or cycle ways?
Why haven’t some these things been done in the past? Well to be fair the council has to make hard choices about spending. Believe it or not, they are restricted in their actions by us, their electors and no one ever wants their rates to go up. But by taking this stance we have heavily restricted the ability of our elected officials to think outside the box. We need to guard against the instinct that can lead us to become to insular. If there were not people with the vision and the drive to accomplish it, we would not be living in a world which has the Eiffel tower, Colosseum, Sphinx, Statue of Liberty or the Sydney Opera House. We need to decide on what our CBD’s advantages are and then act on it. I would hope that the pending redevelopment of The Strand reclamation area, together with the “Eat Street” rebranding to the eastern part of Wharf Street will aid in realising these advantages.