Gone. Gone. Going!
By Andrew Frame

I had to giggle the other day walking up Emerson Street at this bit of ‘redecorating’ someone had done to the directory board of Napier’s Mid City Plaza in Emerson Street.

Now I’m not condoning graffiti. It’s all too often scribbled in the most inconsiderate or inappropriate places in an illegible hand and with multiple spelling and grammatical errors typical of an education system that relies too heavily on using computers and allows “text” spelling in English exams. But this I loved. This was a dish best served with marker pen.

Last week’s Napier Courier featured a small article noting eight and picturing six vacant Emerson Street premises and asked “If this was a good look for Napier’s premiere shopping street – for tourists and cruise ship visitors to be confronted with empty shops and “to lease” signs”? The answer, of course, is “Hell, No!”

Never mind the obviousness of empty shops, quiet streets and hard times, though. Because a representative of Bayleys Real Estate reassured us: “It’s all very positive – Napier is doing very well right now,” they said. “Experience tells us that once a shop is vacated there is always someone in the background wanting to lease it”. Gee, doesn’t that make you feel so much more secure and busy?

It’s funny they should quote someone from Bayleys. Because undoubtedly one of the biggest, most vacant, saddest examples of inner-city Napier’s premiere shopping street going empty, Mid City Plaza, is managed by Bayleys Property Services on behalf of an anonymous British investor who bought the complex in 2008 for $5 million. The investor was introduced to the property by Bayleys’ Auckland office and they bought a number of other commercial investments in New Zealand.

The Dominion Post reported that the Plaza as producing net rental income of $421,000 in 2008. This was when there were only two vacant, small shops in the mall. Once leased, they would have increased the potential rental income to $444,000.

The anonymous Briton also bought two adjoining Emerson St shops – at the time home to Nectar Body Shop and Beattie & Forbes bookshop for $955,000. Both local businesses and neither of them are still there, either – replaced, yet again, with chain stores.

Running from Emerson Street through to Dickens Street, Mid City Plaza was for years filled with bustle and shoppers. A café, bakery, magazine store, toy shop, hairdressers, beauty salons, clothing stores, computer stores, furniture, rubber and plastic stores all filled the mall. Now it is cavernously empty. Inside, the glass windows and doors of the formerly thriving shops provide a bleak vista of bare, vacant shops. Plywood partitioning blocks the internal walkway between the CBD streets and the view of further emptiness beyond.

The mall has been like this for months. Where are all these other keen tenants waiting in the wings now, Bayleys?

Unless they are charging their remaining retailers some very serious coinage, there is surely no way any value is been returned from the Brit-with-the-bucks almost $6 million purchase, now that the number of tenants has gone (and keeps going) through the shop floor.

Talking to past tenants (and there are quite a few of them) reveals a major lack of communication with tenants, unrealistic rent rises in hard times, and leases not being renewed in favour of even more planned chain stores being major factors in their leaving. Sound familiar?

Yet again, you have to ask: How is it better to have empty shops with high rents rather than charging less rent, but with loyal tenants filling your shops with people, activity and giving you continual income? To me, it surely isn’t rocket science. But, hey, I can’t afford to buy a shopping mall!

This is not a good look for Napier’s main shopping street, absolutely not. It’s time some action was taken. But what?

A ‘name and shame’ campaign, perhaps? How about putting the heat on landlords who have increased their rents unintelligently. This might be an effective way of outing over-zealous landlords and commission-hungry agents and give the public a factual account of just how much is being asked for rents in the central city. But it won’t get shops filled any faster.

The Council can’t do much either. They have no power to directly tell landlords what to charge. But maybe they should get as excited about promoting the CBD and local businesses as they are about promoting tourism, which doesn’t benefit many of our retailers.

And isn’t it time Napier Inner City Marketing took a big step up? According to its Strategic Plan, this organisation is mandated to provide a vibrant inner city environment; support inner city business prosperity and development, marketing Napier inner city as a destination for tourists and locals to enjoy; and, influence political, community and commercial leaders in the interests of stakeholders. I wonder if NICM members think this organization is making much impact?

I’ll admit, none of those steps – nor all of them together – can cure the recession NZ can’t seem to shake off. Still, it would be nice if more of us came up to bat for our local retailers, and didn’t gouge each other in the process.

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  1. Yes – very timely comment. I personally believe we should should be keeping our properties in local hands and keeping our businesses owned and operated by locals catering for our own community and it’s needs first and foremost. Local designers, artisans and producers are the ones who should be benefiting from both community markets and tourism. Enough of the chain stores – much of what they sell is cheap and junky, produced off shore and imported. Everywhere the same. Nothing original. How can this make sense when our own people are being pushed out of their businesses and jobs? As for catering for tourists, when we go traveling we look for things which are crafted in the locale and unique. This is becoming difficult because of the chain stores taking over everywhere. Besides the international conglomerate bosses don’t give a damn about their impact on communities. They are only interested in lining their own pockets. Nor do they care about the people forced into slave labour to produce the goods, or for the horrendous environmental impact many of their products have on our rapidly depleting once beautiful planet.

  2. A very timely article Andrew. I took a lunchtime stroll from our CBD office up Emmerson St & onto the beach to eat lunch today. Town was busy with tourists & locals alike at the beach end, except for the Soundshell area, which was empty. Well, not quite, but it’s sole occupant made sure the place was vacated with his megaphone & sandwich board pronouncing impending doom for non-beleivers & droning insistance that we turn to Jesus before its tool late.

    A bit like the soothsayers & prophets in Life of Brian, but without the humour.

    Now, I’ve no objection to anyone speaking freely on their beliefs, but why on earth do NCC & all the tourism bodies allow someone who will do nothing but put a dent in tourists otherwise sunny day the prime spot in the city to pour out doom-laden, evangelical drivle? Are they hell bent (as the rest of us are according to megaphone-man) on driving as many people away from the area that should be full of tourists & locals having lunch on the grass?

    I might dress as a fundamentalist Imman & go head to head with him tomorrow. At least we could turn it into entertainment, especially if we could persuade the hari-krishna’s to turn up too.

  3. The anonymous English owner is the Duke of Bedford who will not enter into any form of discussion with the leaseholders. He has his agent very firmly in between so there has been no ability to communicate any problems with him.

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