Small town re­tail streets in dan­ger

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Your Local News - SAM KILMIS­TER

‘‘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.’’

GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Manawatu¯ mayor He­len Wor­boys says how busi­nesses op­er­ate once strength­en­ing be­gins will be a chal­lenge.

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