Retailers are pouring their own money and time to ensure the community’s voice is heard in Whakatane District Council’s latest project.
Submissions for Te Ara Hou, Whakatane District Council’s landmark revitalisation of the central business district, close on Friday and, fearing the worst for their carparks, retailers are pulling out all the stops.
Hundreds of flyers have been printed and delivered, newspaper adverts taken out, and submissions gathered.
Retailers are worried the proposed revitalisation, which has no firm plans yet, will see the Kakahoroa Drive carpark removed and replaced with a large green space, giant chess boards and basketball courts.
They say if the carpark is removed it will kill their businesses and create a CBD wasteland similar to Tauranga.
Paper Plus Whakatane store owner Graham Dennis took a half-page advert in the Beacon last week asking the community to make a submission and save the carpark and CBD workers’ jobs.
He says he did so because he didn’t think the wider community knew enough about the proposed project.
“The carpark is convenient, and The Strand is the heartbeat of the town.
“I serve around 500 customers per day in here and they need access. If you look at the Rotorua and Tauranga CBDs, they are struggling like hell and it’s because they’ve had that access removed and with it their heartbeat.
"Have you ever seen a successful shopping centre without a carpark? I just don’t see any gain in removing carparks.”
Like many of the other Strand retailers, Graham and his staff often struggle to find carparking and do not believe the suggested alternative carparks at the former Wally Sutherland site are located close enough.
“I’m not sending my staff down past the skatepark when it’s the middle of winter. It’s cold, it’s rainy and there are safety issues.
“Security is bad enough out the back of here; I need to know my staff are safe and would have to accompany them down there.”
He says staff who started at 10am often arrived much earlier to ensure they could get a park.
Graham is not against development and considers himself forward thinking but believes the council needs to concentrate on getting the small things right first, such as removing graffiti, repairing footpaths, fixing and tidying up fairy lights in the trees and cleaning and emptying rubbish bins.
“If we’re not taking pride in and maintaining what we have now, what’s the point of installing more."
He knows if the council does not spend the Provincial Growth Fund money allocated for the project it will lose it but does not think the council should be spending money for the sake of it.
He says the council should give it back if that is what the community wants.
However, he has seen a community submitted design of a waka bridge spanning the carport, from the river stopbank to Wharaurangi and likes this option.
Graham says the response to his newspaper advert had been “amazing” and he has been collecting a lot of submissions on behalf of the community.
Subway Whakatane owner Steven French has also poured his own money into ensuring the community is aware of retailers’ concerns around the project.
He has printed hundreds of flyers that have been delivered to businesses on The Strand and tucked under the windscreen wipers of every car in the Kakahoroa carpark.
Whakatane Subway owner Steven French has joined Whakatane Paper Plus owner Graham Dennis and Legacy Accountants director Jason Lougher in spending his own money to raise awareness of the issue. Mr French printed hundreds of these flyers which are in shops on The Strand and placed on cars in the CBD. CHARLOTTE JONES / LDR
“This has cost me a lot of money, but I feel really strongly about this and I wanted to heighten the awareness of the council’s potential plans around this,.
“The proposed concepts are seriously flawed and far from revitalising the town are going to do significant damage to the vibrancy and the businesses that operate in the township.”
Steven says alternative carparking at Wally Sutherland’s is “a joke”.
“It’s 750 metres from The Bean and 600 metres from Subway and Whakamax – people won’t go.”
Like many others, Steven is concerned at the safety of staff walking to work from satellite carparks, particularly those like his that open and close at “dark o’clock”.
“I have serious security concerns for those employees, so we need dedicated all-day parking for those businesses who need it on The Strand. We could police that with a coupon system; if you don’t display a coupon you get fined."
Although he does not believe the council’s existing plans will draw people in, Steven has put forward several concepts in his submission that he thinks will revitalise and beautify the CBD as well as attract more people.
He has suggested widening the riverbank over Kakahoroa Drive to create a much larger promenade to host markets, creating a lightshow on the riverbank like the one at the Mataatua wharenui, giving tourists waka rides on the river, replacing all Strand awnings with glass like at Wharaurangi, and a street performer contest to attract people from around the country.
“I also really like the waka bridge concept that has been proposed, which personally I think will be brilliant,” he says.
“The waka bridge will attract people to the CBD because it will be a tourist attraction in its own right. It could be an iconic feature of our beautiful town.”
An unknown community member submitted this concept of a waka bridge from the riverfront over the carpark and down to The Strand. It has proved to be popular among the community. SUPPLIED
Steven says blue lights underneath the bridge to represent the river would look great as well as a selfie spot to promote Whakatane on social media like the Taupo sign on the Taupo lakefront.
“We need to compromise. We’ve already been severely damaged by Whakaari and COVID-19, which were both disastrous for businesses.
“If we get any less customers, within a matter of weeks businesses will fold because reserves are depleted. People earning big bucks in council will be responsible for the loss of hundreds of jobs if they don’t get it right, it’s that simple.”
Presentables owner Leonie Moeke is all for development in the CBD but says it could not happen at the expense of carparking.
She asked how people will expect New World or Bunnings to react if their carparks are earmarked for development.
“What is wrong with having a carpark in the middle of the CBD,” she says. “It’s a real asset and we should market it as such. We should let people know that we have great shopping, great eateries, and central, free, all-day parking.”
Like many others. Leonie is concerned about safety and security if people have to walk in the dark to their cars.
“I’m sure there is an opportunity out there for this growth fund to do some real good in the community, however the Kakahoroa Drive parking area is not it.”