Ideas to revitalise CBD put forward

July 08, 2019 - 204 views

Oamaru is not alone in facing small-town retail challenges, but Annabel Berry says there is no reason why the North Otago town cannot lead the way in addressing them.

Annabel Berry.
Annabel Berry.

The Design Federation owner presented some ambitious ideas about how Oamaru's CBD could be revitalised at a meeting of about 60 business owners, landlords and representatives from the Waitaki District Council, Chamber of Commerce and Oamaru Licensing Trust on Thursday night.

The meeting at the Oamaru Opera House was organised by Mrs Berry who said she was spurred to action after recent publicity about the challenges of retail in Oamaru, and the growing number of empty retail and office spaces in the town's main street.

"There was quite a bit of negativity being spoken around town," she said.

"I started thinking about what we could do and once I started I just couldn't stop.

"I was starting to think about what makes Oamaru unique, what makes it special and different from anywhere else and how we can harness that and promote it not only to locals, but nationally and internationally as well."

Without a retailers' association, it was the first time in many years local business owners had met to discuss the challenges and opportunities in Oamaru.

Among ideas presented for how to revitalise retail were plans to reduce an area of Thames St from four lanes to two, and create a town centre.

Mrs Berry's concept, designed by Anna Hopkins, included green space outside the Waitaki District Council building, from Itchen to Meek Sts, with outdoor seating, art installations, an area for concerts and events and a walkway to the Victorian precinct.

Meeting attendees praised Mrs Berry's transformative plan and said it could be a game changer for the town.

Mrs Berry also presented 12 different talking points at the meeting and had group feedback sessions on ideas including forming a retailers' association, free parking, creating retailers' awards, cohesion of events and sales and promotions, and consistent opening hours.

Concerns were also raised about modern signage and awnings detracting from the beauty of Oamaru's buildings. There was a call to standardise signage and discussions about removing awnings.

In response to criticism that the Waitaki District Council had been too focused on the development of the Oamaru Harbour master plan rather than the town as a whole, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher also presented a town centre concept at the meeting.

Developed by the Waitaki District Council's roading team last year, the design reduced Thames St from four lanes to two, with green space at the southern end of Thames St, and included a cycle lane and roundabout at the Tees St intersection.

Mr Kircher said "no idea was off the table" in discussions about the future of Oamaru's main street, and he sought interest in forming a group of `enthusiastic business owners" to help with ideas for its redevelopment.

But, for now, the focus remained on Oamaru Harbour, he said.

"We can't do it all at once.

"Although the harbour plan, along with planning [of] Otematata and Omarama, has taken a lot of council's resources, that work is nearly completed.

"Work on the main street has at least started and once the harbour plan is completed, we can continue with that work."

Mrs Berry acknowledged Oamaru was not alone in facing small-town economic challenges, but said that should not be an excuse for inaction.

"I don't have all the answers. I just really wanted to get a crowd together, start the conversation, inspire action and provide some inspiration of what we can do," she said.

Mrs Berry expected her ambitious ideas to "ruffle a few feathers", but said feedback had been positive.

"Everyone's been so enthusiastic and really wanting change," she said.

"I feel like now is the right time. We've got a harbour plan that's currently being presented. Is this now the right time to look at the town as a whole and think how can we bring everything together?"


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