Small town retail streets in danger
‘‘I can see in seven years' time... that Fergusson St pretty much won't exist.’’ Robert McNabb, Rosebowl Cafe owner
A Manawatu¯ town’s vibrant retail hub is in danger of crumbling as changes to earthquake-prone building laws loom.
Feilding’s Fergusson St homes several of the town’s buildings that have been labelled high risk and building owners say unless small towns are granted concessions, the street is at risk of becoming a zombie highway.
The Rosebowl Cafe and Bakery announced in October its intention to shift from its earthquake-prone building in Fergusson St to a refurbished complex one block over on Kimbolton Rd.
Owner Robert McNabb warned he wouldn’t be the last to vacate the street either.
Gracies owner Kerry Gracie forecasted similar measures for his business, which is also in a building in need of considerable repairs.
This year Fairfax Media and Watson Real Estate withdrew their offices from Fergusson St and, more recently, Shiloh’s Pets have called time.
Several other business and building owners were nearing the age of retirement and, instead of the sleepless nights and financial stress of repairing buildings, they would likely just walk away, Gracie said.
The Government even anticipates this, giving itself the power to demolish any building left unstrengthened and recover the costs from the owner.
Unless the requirements for earthquake-prone buildings were relaxed, the prospect of finding a workable, realistic middle ground remained shaky, Gracie said.
Central Economic Development Agency chief executive Linda Stewart said provincial building owners had less money to draw on for their investment, and lower potential for growth, but faced similar prices for repairs as those in larger towns and cities.
It leaves Fergusson St in somewhat of a pickle as the reality of gaps in the townscape appeared inevitable, McNabb said.
‘‘I can see in seven years’ time when all this law actually comes into force that Fergusson St pretty much won’t exist. There’s got to be 30 or 40 buildings in Feilding that have to be demolished or fixed and they won’t be fixed because no one has got the money.
‘‘There’ll be the odd building that gets fixed but they’ll be on their own. There’ll be a lot of empty land around them.
‘‘It’s going to be a pretty sad town to be honest.’’
Architect Agnesh Brahmbhatt said Fergusson St was a gateway from Manfeild Park to the town’s CBD and the street’s survival was vital.
Feasibility studies showed that demolishing and rebuilding was likely cheaper than strengthening in the long run, Brahmbhatt said.
His company Architype-Team Architects is working on a plan for Feilding’s CBD at the request of business consultant Gordon Smith.
Plans include sections for retail shopping centres, a hospitality section, apartment living and stations for live music.
‘‘I see it as a really nice, modern, high-class town. Feilding is very vibrant. People want to be in the CBD.’’
Manawatu¯ mayor Helen Worboys said the town would inevitably look different following this process.
But the biggest challenge was determining how businesses would operate once strengthening on their building began, Worboys said.
Whether they set up in pop-up crates similar to Christchurch or close for however many months it takes is yet to be decided.
‘‘Business continuity is the issue,’’ Worboys said. ‘‘Do we have a plan or do we put red tape around the CBD and say ‘sorry, it’s closed for a number of years’ and send everyone to the city to shop? ‘‘Heavens no.‘‘ The CBD belonged to the community and Worboys urged shoppers to keep spending locally to support businesses through this period.
‘‘This is the heart of our community where business takes place, where people come to socialise, to eat, it’s a vibrant part of what we do.’’
Rangitı¯kei mayor Andy Watson said Labour and New Zealand First forked out $1 billion for regional development and he wanted financial assistance while buildings were repaired.
‘‘My guess is the government won’t back away from this legislation and possibly they shouldn’t. But a change in timeline, a change in assistance programmes should be part of this.’’
Manawatu¯ mayor Helen Worboys says how businesses operate once strengthening begins will be a challenge.