The redevelopment of Tauranga's waterfront is a project 30 years in the planning. As the first major stage of works nears completion James Fuller talks to Strand business owners about the effect it has had on them.
Strand business owners are divided over the loss of car parking caused by the Tauranga waterfront development, with one saying trade is down 30 per cent since work began.
The first stage of the $625,000 scheme, which is replacing two car parks with lawned areas suitable for outdoor events, is near completion.
Some businesses say the resultant loss of 169 parking spaces has hit trade hard. But others claim the development will attract greater customer numbers in the future and any trading issues are short-term.
Colin Milne, owner of the Crown & Badger, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend his daytime revenue figures were down 30 per cent since the start of work.
"Things are very hard anyway, unbelievably hard, and this is certainly not helping. Breakfasts on a Sunday used to be busy. People would just park over there and wander across, but that's pretty much gone now.
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"Car parks are important for a business to run. To just take them away and not replace them in any way seems shortsighted."
The new public areas will be open from the end of next month. An official opening event is scheduled for the end of September. Tauranga City Council said 20 events had already been carded for the opening season, from late September to February.
Syndicate Bar owner Rikki Walls said customer parking remained a big issue.
"Long term it's going to be great, but short term it's a massive problem for us," he said. "Having the waterfront redeveloped will be fantastic, but we are the ones suffering in the short term.
"Two weeks ago we had a baby shower booked in here for 1pm on a Saturday afternoon. One of the ladies had to park at the courthouse just to find a parking place to come and eat at our restaurant. They said they wouldn't be booking another luncheon here because of that. That's devastating for us."
Mr Walls questioned whether people would walk down from Spring Street.
"Are you, as a family, going to park in Spring St and lug your chilli bin, picnic gear, umbrella and young kids all the way down to the waterfront? They're more likely to go to Pilot Bay where they have free parking."
Adele Hadfield, Tauranga City Council's strategic planner with responsibility for the city centre, said the businesses that complained about parking were "a vocal minority".
She said, as part of the consent work for the redevelopment, a consultation was held with city centre businesses and the overwhelming majority were behind the plans.
Owner of Strand bar De Bier Haus, Matt Hayward, said he felt the issue was more about education.
"The problem is not the number of spaces we've got, it's about people knowing that there are still spaces. We've lost the southern reclamation car park but the northern one has pretty much always got spare parks. You drive in the other end but the walk isn't that much different to what it would be from the southern car parks."
He said he supported the redevelopment and envisaged a space for events such as market days, open-air concerts and movie nights. "There's no limit really. It could be one of the nicest open air spaces in the area.
"People need a reason to come to the waterfront and then they will find a park because they want to come down rather than the other way round."
John Harvey, who has owned Strand restaurant Amphora for 10 years, said it was time people realised Tauranga was a city and should change their mindsets.
"Initially people might be discouraged from walking in from the CBD but people will adapt. In Auckland you park and walk for five minutes to your restaurant. It's part of being a city. We're a city now, not a town.
"The people of Tauranga have just got to get used to dealing with the fact you're not going to be able to park 30 seconds away from where you want to go."
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Trevor Donaghy moved to Tauranga a year ago from Waikato, having purchased the Lone Star. He said it was the right time to redevelop "the city's best asset".
"It has to be well planned but not over-planned. You have to take action at some point, and I think they're headed in the right direction. We have all these cars sitting there at the moment which have the best views in the city."
Mr Donaghy said with the regulations around earthquake strengthening of buildings needing to complied with by 2018, the Strand would look very different in the future. He said buildings would either be "heavily refurbished or ripped down and rebuilt" and the "fresh, new look" would attract people.
Cornerstone Pub co-owner Amy Porter said she was positive about the potential of the waterfront redevelopment.
"It's time the Strand had a facelift and it's good it's happening. It might be a turbulent time with the works taking place but it's needed. We've got to offer people attractions to come down here, this will do that and hopefully people will utilise it more. It's beautiful on the waterfront."
A total of 178 all-day spaces, predominantly in the northern reclamation car park, remain for customers. The car park will retain its current usage until July 2017 when work will begin on transforming it into a further events and open space area. The $1.1 million project will be completed in the 2018/19 financial year.
Tauranga City Council announced that from Thursday and every subsequent Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, parking hours in the northern reclamation car park would extend to 11.30pm.
The move was described as a response to local business concerns. It was further announced the opening hours of the Spring St car park building were being extended from 6.30pm to 11pm each night from Monday.
Larry Baldock, chairman of the City Centre Taskforce, said parking was an emotive issue but the fact was occupancy rates in the northern reclamation car park "was nothing like 100 per cent so we haven't lost much in terms of the occupancy rates".
A city council survey in May indicated the 178 spaces currently available were not being fully utilised. An average occupancy of 45 per cent was recorded with a peak occupancy rate of 63 per cent.
"We're constantly reviewing parking to ensure we're not putting impediments in front of the retailers," said Councillor Baldock. "It's important to note that the Main St association of businesses have been in full support of the redevelopment as they believe it will bring people into the city.
"You may initially find a few people not walking down but eventually, if we get the waterfront working properly and it attracts people in with events, the businesses will benefit."
Councillor Baldock said the bigger issue revolved around the development of a vibrant, attractive CBD, and getting more workers in there Monday to Friday.
"They then become their customers rather than relying on the people who drive into town just to go shopping. It's all part of a big package to make the CBD more attractive to people and businesses that includes more capacity for offices and developing amenities such as the waterfront."
Hard economic times meant some practical adjustments to the council's redevelopment budget. "When I came back on to the council in 2010 it was a $20 million budget over 10 years. We're only spending $4 million now over 10 years but getting some really good developments." that most of the public seem very pleased with.
Changes to Tauranga Parking
New hours from Monday July 2
Northern Strand Reclamation Car Park
Fully open from Sunday at 6am until Thursday at 11.30pm. Restrictions are applied on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when it is closed between 11.30pm and 6am the following day.
Spring St Car Park Building
Open each day (except Sundays when it is closed) between 7am and 11.30pm.