The reincarnation of an eat street in Tauranga

The Wharf street think tank – from left public spaces advisor James Jacobs, urban planner Doug Spittle, and Travis Wooller, landscape architect. Photo: Daniel Hines.

Wharf Street - tacky and dilapidated. A hodgepodge of recycled wooden pallets and planters, the occupants of most, long dead.

A shambles of an eat street where traffic remains intrusive and grapples with diners, imbibers and pedestrians for occupancy rights.

As one punter told The Weekend Sun: “I don’t want a side of soot with my food thank you”. 

But one man’s eyesore is another’s empty canvas.

“I don’t hear that criticism and I am an inveterate user of the street,” says a mildly defensive Doug Spittle, Tauranga City Council public spaces man.

Then a concession. “I wouldn’t call it tacky, but it’s certainly not as refined as possible.” And that’s his job – transforming the junkyard into a jewel, re-programming Wharf Street.

What we are seeing in Wharf Street right now goes much deeper than shabby street furniture, one-way traffic, dumplings and IPA. “What it really is, is a good example of tactical urbanism,” says Travis Wooller, a landscape architect with the integrated design studio Isthmus and part of Doug’s Wharf Street team.

“For not a lot of money and not a lot of construction at all, they have been able to test the street over a few years on how to make it work as a pedestrian oriented space, as opposed to a vehicular one.”

So “the tack” we are gazing on today is a trial run – to see what businesses wanted and didn’t want, what worked and didn’t work. Now Doug and Travis and business owners have it sussed and the Tauranga City Council is investing $5.56 million to ‘re-programme the space’ – transforming Wharf Street into a true dining destination, a quality people place, sans l’automobile.

“Wharf Street hasn’t been hitting all the high notes it should be,” says Doug Spittle. “But this will take it to a new level.”

They have good raw product to work with. The street is as a street should be. “It has the right hospitality-based businesses, active frontages along its entire length,” says Doug. “It has solar orientation - the sun hits it from the right direction morning and afternoon – and it has weather protection.”

You wouldn’t find another street in the CBD that ticks all those boxes and is book-ended by all the other developments in the emerging civic precinct – including being smack-bang in the middle of the Strand dining precinct.

The design man Travis Wooller says there will be “a couple of conceptual drivers” underpinning the new Wharf Street design. One is history – the fact Coronation Pier used to run off the end of Wharf Street. So the new concrete paving will be patterned like wharf timbers. And the furniture will be of heavy hardwood timbers – no pallets.  But the aesthetic approach will be what may well have been sitting on the wharves at the time they were built. “Picking up on that slight industrial wharf feel,” says Travis.

Now slam your imagination into overdrive because the second conceptual driver will be reflected in what Travis calls his “dynamic ceiling”.  It is a lit catenary system. “So tension cables between poles and on those cables are strung series of lights which are ambient, relating to the immediate surrounds, and all talking to one another and programmable.” In other words they turn on a show.

RGB lights - red, green and blue LEDs, which combined produce millions of hues, different colors and shapes moving up and down the street at night time as an attractor, a magnet. “Makes sure the street is fantastic during the day but also just as fantastic in the evening,” says Travis.

He’s sitting in the sun outside Dry Dock Café and he nods skywards to the clouds. His dynamic ceiling is picking up on those clouds, or nature’s ceiling. “The clouds often gather on the shoreline as the land and sea play off one another with warming and cooling. This is a sort of metaphor for people gathering in this space.”

Like any work of art, the beholder will take what they will from it. Others won’t see beyond the light cast on the head of their beer. But no-one will be immune to the mood the “dynamic ceiling” creates. It’s about ambience, about pulling in the punters.

Wharf Street has become somewhere quietly special for the urban planner, the spaces man, Doug Spittle. It’s his backyard. “I come here every day because I work near here. In the future more people will work near here, a lot more people will live near here, this will be a meeting place and an eating place.”

There’s a lot riding on him to make it work because there’s a tsunami of naysayers ready to wash up Wharf Street given the slightest provocation. “It will be difficult in terms of being on the back of other council projects that have left people frustrated and wanting different outcomes,” says Doug. “But I think local people will really connect with this place. It has all the ingredients of a great place.”

But not quite yet, because right then a young male nuisance factor revs an orange motor scooter and barrels off down Wharf Street. Conversation is drowned, eating and drinking is paused, eyes roll. Enjoy the moment nuisance factor, enjoy the ride, because you are about to be history.

Since 2015, there has been a very fluid back-and-forth between the TCC Wharf Street planning team, business owners and landlords on the development design. One thing they have all agreed on from the outset are the barricades which are going up at both ends of Wharf Street.

It will be shut off to all vehicular traffic including that damned motor scooter. Good riddance. Pedestrians, diners and imbibers are reclaiming Wharf Street, they’re taking the street out of Wharf Street. That will go down well. Perhaps it should be renamed - Wharf Way?

So a futuristic new Wharf Street but the same old fare, same old beer. “Excuse me??” That got a rise out of Doug Spittle. “Have you been to Pho Vina?” A new Vietnamese joint on the strip and obviously Doug’s current haunt. “I have had the pork and wonton, I have had the chicken and wonton with the spicy sauce. And just seven seconds for the mung beans. Damn! I could go on.”

He insists every one of those joints down Wharf Street – food or drink – is world class. “I love it here, that’s why I come so often.” 

Works starts about next Easter and should be finished by November 2020.

Then we will have reason to join Doug.

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Posted on 17-10-2019 14:50 | By Eric Bantona

Don’t forget the councillors sign off on projects and I suspect the only agenda the staff have are to do the job they are asked and directed to do by the CE and councillors. After the last year it appears that there will be even more scrutiny of the projects. In terms of Farmers being a stand alone building, only time will tell. We’ll see whether these comments have aged well in a few years.

Eric Bantona

Posted on 16-10-2019 19:37 | By Accountable

I attended a Council workshop about the CBD about a month ago and there were a couple of well known leasing agents whom operate within the CBD in attendance. They both stated that they have a large number of present tenants who are desperate to get out of their leases and move away from the city centre. The problem they have is there is nobody wanting to take over these leases and the agents are saying future tenants are short in supply. I regretfully have a business in the CBD and am very involved with trying to make changes through the Council system but it is always extremely difficult when you are up against the likes of the Council staff mentioned in this article. They are very poor listeners and usually have an agenda of their own. Good luck to the stand alone Farmers store!!!!!!!

Old trucker

Posted on 14-10-2019 10:20 | By Eric Bantona

Yeh I agree the “trial” furniture has been there too long. It will be removed. Those 3 guys in the picture are doing their job. The project is approved and monitored by the councillors. The councillors are supposed to take the views of residents into account. Your statement that nobody wants this is wrong. You should have said “not everybody” wants this. That’s a democracy and how our society works. I don’t use libraries but my rates go towards them. I trust that people I know, and people I don’t know, use them so I’m happy because it serves a part of our society. Trying to improve the city centre serves parts of our society too. Just because it doesn’t serve you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t go ahead. Also - do you always slip onto the capslock when posting? I read the upper case as shouting. It amused me

here we go again

Posted on 11-10-2019 20:43 | By old trucker

I walked down there the other night, what a FILTHY little street,all that boxing stuff, ,me TINKS pull it all out, NOT MANY People can afford to go out now, and to waste money,those 3 guys in the picture ,(known as the THINKTANK)what a lot of RUBBISH, Do they not listen or see that nobody wants this, and the Mayor thats in now was going too stop all this SPENDING,YEAH RIGHT, he does as he is told by the old school club in TCC,GROW A PAIR Mr Mayor and stop all this SPENDING,anyway Sunlive,thats me 3 bobs worth for what its worth,BEING No1,is AWESOME, Thankyou,10-4 out. phew.


Posted on 11-10-2019 15:51 | By Eric Bantona

Hospitality doesn’t follow retail alone. Hospitality follows people. Big retail will not come back from the malls and shopping centres. The horse has bolted with that one. I find it strange that you think everyone is moving out of the city centre when we have a university campus just opened, the farmers redevelopment which will have apartments (I know! What a shock! Mixed retail, hospitality and accommodation - it’s almost as if we have a city centre!), the interest in a hotel increasing again, and many businesses redeveloping. You don’t need a degree to know that it shows a sign of commitment from property owners and that they view their redevelopment as being viable otherwise why would they do it? They would just move out of the city centre wouldn’t they? - but they are not.

Eric Bantona

Posted on 11-10-2019 08:49 | By Accountable

My information assures me that the infrastructure is in good operating condition and has not caused any problems. This is just one excuse to continue with this costly, unnecessary upgrade. Hospitality follows retail and the path Council is taking has proved that the retail industry is being driven out and as usual the hospitality and accommodation will eventually follow. The same is happening world wide with millions of property owners losing billions of dollars. Hopefully our next Council will lead the world by example and stop this nonsense.


Posted on 10-10-2019 13:31 | By Eric Bantona

And you sum up my point entirely. The days of parking outside your shop are gone. Successful city centres thrive due to the offer of living (high density housing), eating and drinking, working, event attendances and retail. Not retail alone. I’d imagine a high proportion of the project cost is for infrastructure upgrade which would happen regardless. If people want to shop they go to malls. This won’t change. So either you change with the times or you get left behind. I can bet which one it’ll be.

Eric Bantona

Posted on 08-10-2019 17:09 | By Accountable

5.56 million dollars divided by 12 businesses equates to 460,000 dollars being spent on each business in the proposed Wharf Street eating area. That is abominable. Your quote ’’The city is changing and these keyboard warriors will disappear eventually because they can’t drive their car and park directly outside shops.’’ This comment sums up exactly why the Wharf street idea is stupid because of the lack of free accessible parking driving everybody to the big shopping malls. The foot traffic figures show a constant drop in people numbers in the CBD. Simple really. The Council won’t fund a free cruise ship shopping shuttle to the CBD to enliven the retail at a cost of a couple of hundred thousand and yet they will spend 5.56 million dollars on a dozen bars and cafes!!!! It just doesn’t figure does it?


Posted on 08-10-2019 12:13 | By morepork

If you think it looks tacky now, wait ’til you see it lit up like the lid on a chocolate box, with a coloured light "son et lumiere"... the ultimate in tackiness. It doesn’t NEED $5 million dollars; just a decent design and some imagination.

Don’t listen to the keyboard warriors

Posted on 08-10-2019 11:54 | By Eric Bantona

Whinge. Whinge. Whinge. Taken in isolation, the project value will always be high. Relative to the big infrastructure projects it isn’t even 10%. Whingers on here complain the city centre is dying and then when something is being done to try and help, they oppose it. City centres are not dominated by retail and cars anymore. I’m sure other areas and roads in the city centre are due to follow. The city centre needs it, the businesses on wharf street want it and will be paying a licence to use the area. This is a good thing. Don’t listen to the whinging, narcissistic, negative keyboard warriors. They are a small percentage of the population. Think about future generations and what we want our city to become. The city is changing and these keyboard warriors will disappear eventually because they can’t drive their car and park directly outside shops.

$5.5 Million for

Posted on 07-10-2019 21:59 | By The Caveman

150 meters of street !! Hay ratepayers, do the sums for the rest of the streets in the area - $75 million PLUS !!!

Go for it

Posted on 07-10-2019 21:22 | By Rochelais

You go for it fellas. Tauranga has so few urban spaces that work well. I am really pleased that the Council has the courage to invest some significant $$ to transform Wharf street. I can see Wharf Street as a well designed urban space that becomes a real magnet for office workers, shoppers, tourists, etc.

Waste of Time

Posted on 07-10-2019 19:25 | By Yadick

5.5 million and there won’t even be a shelter. Close the whole street of so delivery vehicles park/block other streets (not their fault), and then give us a ceiling of lights to sit under for 5 months of the year and for the rest of the year we can sit in the rain and cold and wind and eat our soggy meals. I seem to recall that the services under the road we’re fine somewhere else in Tauranga too - what a disaster there . . . This council . . . and some of them have the gaul and audacity to stand again.

Says it all really

Posted on 07-10-2019 16:02 | By Avman

Mr Spittle’s comment says it all: "there’s a tsunami of naysayers ready to wash up Wharf Street given the slightest provocation. “It will be difficult in terms of being on the back of other council projects that have left people frustrated and wanting different outcomes,” says Doug. " In other words, nobody wants it, but we at Council don’t care what you all say. And sure, we have stuffed up lots of other things, but just forget about those will you? The previous works on Wharf street have been an abject disaster, so what does Council propose to do about it? Why, much more of what already failed, obviously!

“I don’t hear that criticism and I am an inveterate user of the street,”

Posted on 07-10-2019 14:28 | By nerak

And that, Doug, is because you only hear what you want to hear. Time for you to go. Seems your agenda is all about what you want, NOT what you’re paid to do, which is certainly not pleasing yourself.

Building owners perhaps?

Posted on 07-10-2019 14:01 | By Tga4ever

Why spend all of that money on a small street, why not the strand where all of the main eateries are, or the Red Square, or encourage people to use the fine area over the railway line that used to be a highly functional parking area and is now used for???? If these guys had anything to do with the Mt Maunganui car park conversion concept we are in trouble

City Council Stuff-Up's

Posted on 07-10-2019 13:09 | By local yokel

Well the Council don’t listen to anyone else now-a-days and just go on a tangent by themselves and to hell with giving their ratepayers a chance to be heard. Just look at all the stuff up’s they have been involved with right through out our Tauranga City and then they have to try and rectify their own Council caused problems.One of their major stuff up’s was turning Cameron Rd into single lanes both ways at Greerton. It has caused major snarl-ups for both Emergency vehicles and the traffic flow both ways. They should put it back how it was so the traffic flows freely again . Let’s hope after these elections we will get some new Council members in who actually know what they are doing instead of using the rate-payers money to create more problems. .

What a waste

Posted on 07-10-2019 12:57 | By normal local

I assume the restaurants on the street won’t be contributing towards the cost? But they will be reaping all the benefits. How can $5.5 million be justifiably spent on one little street. That is criminal and a waste of ratepayer money.

Red Square?

Posted on 07-10-2019 12:41 | By rcplyttle

What happened to Red Square? Shouldn’t the already traffic free space be down up first? It would make an even better dining experience as it’s a bigger area, food truck accessible and closer to the rest of the shops on Devonport, not hidden away down the strand. It’s looking dilapidated and needs a cash injection even more than a new project.

Where are the ....

Posted on 07-10-2019 12:23 | By Kaimai

the tenants, the consumers, the landlords - why not ask those people what they want to happen to Wharf St.

Who's listening

Posted on 07-10-2019 11:00 | By Accountable

Doesn’t anybody in Council read Sunlive or are they being typical Council workers and ignoring the facts. Sunlives survey recorded 73% of the respondents voted against any spending in Wharf Street. The infrasructure under the road is sound according to staff. The Tauranga Mainstreet organisation spent many thousands of its members money on the street and are still owed many thousand by those that couldn’t survive after the makeover. Tauranga is not a tourist town and unlike the similar but much larger setup in Rotorua who have an ample supply of tourists and visitors Wharf street will have to survive on a very limited supply of locals and that supply has been dwindling daily for the last few years and is unlikely to change unless the Council is prepared to meet the parking challenge. Maybe there will be some free thinkers in the new Council. Here’s hoping.

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