Supporting work to bring the heart back to the Invercargill CBD

Published: Aug 19, 2019

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“This is about making a CBD that makes sense for the heart of Invercargill and breathing new life into the area.”

Chamber of Commerce President Neil McAra and HWCP Chairperson Scott O’Donnell.

Chamber of Commerce President Neil McAra (left) and HWCP Chairperson Scott O’Donnell (right) discussing Invercargill’s CBD.

These are the words of the chairperson of HWCP, a joint venture group tasked with redeveloping Invercargill’s inner city development.

Scott O’Donnell says securing funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) was vital in getting the plan right, ensuring it was robust enough to attract future investment and deliver infrastructure that is resilient and sustainable.

“It enabled us to do the in-depth analysis to make sure what we do achieves the best outcomes for the community and for business. That included research and analysis by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. We had a core concept but this has provided the confidence that we are on the right track. It shaped the project and did result in quite a few changes to our original plans, particularly around the food and beverage offering.”

Mr O’Donnell wants Invercargill inner city development to draw in visitors of every age and demographic, driving much-needed foot traffic and spending back into the CBD and encouraging new businesses.

“When I was a kid, the CBD was a very vibrant place, with a good retail mall,” says Mr O’Donnell.

“Our inner city is now very dilapidated, with many empty units, there are no community spaces to sit, meet and chat, there is no heart to the city.”

The aim is to make a CBD that makes sense for the heart of Invercargill and breathe new life into the area, he says.

“The focus will be on tailoring a development to meet the city’s needs - maintaining the aesthetic character of the site while addressing the need for modern buildings and facilities. The redevelopment will create real spaces for the community and there will be very good food and beverage options, from cheap and cheerful, through good mid-range to full-service restaurants. We will be bringing major stores back and we have an anchor retailer coming to the CBD. We already have a hotel and cinema on site.

The current challenges with our CBD means the problem is that Southlanders go to other provinces to spend. We are bringing investment in to bring that spending back. The food and beverage is a key offering. People will come to meet and eat and they will also shop.”

The project includes a covered car park for 850 vehicles, retail shops ranging from the ‘anchor’ retailer to small boutique stores, offices and apartments, a medical centre, eateries, an outdoor courtyard and open air laneways. While some properties will be demolished, a number of heritage buildings will be incorporated into the development.

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) provided $995,000 for the feasibility study and research and analysis to help guide planning for the project, which was one of the key initiatives to come out of the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS).

Southland Chamber of Commerce President Neil McAra says the revamp began with the regional strategy be developing the realistic goal of increasing the number of people living and working here by 10,000 by 2025.

“I’m a Southlander. For me, it is all about the warm friendly community and the ability to enjoy a good quality of family life and work. There are plenty of opportunities in Southland, we are trying to grow in a number of business areas and there are great jobs, but we can’t get the skills into the region.

“There are people who would like the jobs that are on offer but the challenge is convincing their wider families. People want places they can use, they want places for their teenage children to enjoy, and the current tired and run-down condition of the CBD is not attracting newcomers or new businesses. A revitalised vibrant inner-city will be a key part of addressing that – our members are wholeheartedly behind it.

“We’re focused on building a thriving and prosperous future for Southland. The region needs people, interaction and activity to drive economic growth so we can sustain a high-quality social and economic life.”

Aimee Kaio, Manager of Tribal Economies of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has a love for Invercargill city and everything about Southland.

“But if I really take a step back and a clear-eyed look at our inner city, it is not appealing. Parts of the city centre are run-down and a number of buildings are in a state of decay.

“My children don’t want to spend any time in the city centre and when my older aunties visit, they don’t either.”
Aimee says mana whenua Ngāi Tahu are excited about the opportunities the redevelopment offers.

“The iwi was very closely involved with SoRDS and we are interested to explore commercial opportunities as they arise, so the inner city is appealing to us, for our footprint, and in ensuring we have a presence in the city

“HWCP is very keen for the relationship with Ngāi Tahu to grow. There is work happening around telling the Southland story within the new development. Scott O’Donnell has a vision for a digital platform throughout the whole precinct, promoting the inner city and wider Southland and telling that Southland and iwi story, we look forward to being involved with that.

“The PGF funding enabled Southland to think big on this and to think long term. There is a disconnect in the current CBD and this will bring cohesion and create a sense of pride in ‘our place’.

“I’m in Christchurch for work regularly and I see what’s happening there with the rebuild and the different opportunities that offers. It’s a rebirth and we now have the opportunity to do that in our CBD.

“The PGF has been a catalyst for a project that will benefit the community, and with the strong local support, we’re on track to create something very special for future generations.”

HWCP, developer and hotel owner Geoff Thomson, Invercargill City Council and the Community Trust of Southland, are each contributing $20m to the overall project costs of around $180m. Mr O’Donnell says resource consent should be announced shortly and the aim is to have all funding in place by August 2019.

Demolition and rebuild work is expected to start before the end of the year, but Neil McAra says that without the PGF support, it would have been very hard to get the project off the ground.

“It funded the feasibility study and until you know something is feasible, you are not going to get people funding it. The original investors, like HW Richardson Group, through HWPC, and Geoff Thomson are doing this because they are Southland businesses and passionate about doing the best for Southland.”

Dean Addie, Chief Executive of Invercargill-based engineering and electrical company EIS, says he’d like to have seen a redevelopment of this calibre 20 years ago.

“I can’t wait for it to happen,” he says. “Every month that passes, our CBD looks more like Detroit after the motor industry pulled out. The centre is dead, there are empty shops, buildings falling to pieces – most were designed to last 70 or 80 years and are well past that.

“It used to be a great place but we Southlanders are quite conservative people and conservative around change and the CBD has slowly eroded to the point of no return. Now, finally, there is a project that is going to rejuvenate the whole city centre. We are fortunate to have enablers, with a true passion for Southland who are doing that. The PGF funding is also one of those enablers and is a key part of the jigsaw.

“Older people will want to come back into the city, younger people will, families too. It will be a hub for the community, a vibrant hub for people to go, and importantly, that will shape perceptions of Invercargill and the wider Southland area.”

Scott O'Donnell in a damaged Invercargill building.

Some buildings in Invercargill’s CBD have seen better years.