Businesses form group to revitalise retail, CBD

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A new group has been formed to provide a united voice for the Oamaru business community.

The Oamaru Business Collective – a group of Oamaru business owners – was formed after a meeting about the future of retail and Oamaru’s CBD last week – and they are encouraging new members to join.

Design Federation owner Annabel Berry organised last Thursday night’s meeting of about 60 business owners, landlords and representatives from the Waitaki District Council, Chamber of Commerce and Oamaru Licensing Trust.

Mrs Berry 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.

“It [felt] like the right time to get together and see what could be done to create a better and brighter future for the CBD and the enthusiasm from both the retailers, business owners and public has been great.”

Mrs Berry presented 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, sales and promotions and consistent opening hours.

Among ideas presented on 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 St, with outdoor seating, art installations, an area for concerts and events and a walkway to the Victorian precinct.

In response to criticism 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.

The council’s design also 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 praised Mrs Berry for organising Thursday night’s meeting and starting a discussion about the future of the CBD.

He said council wanted to work closely with Oamaru’s retail sector and businesses on the development of Thames St.

“The fact that there is good agreement on the general concepts .. is a fantastic start. Just how that gets developed over time and transferred into definite plans is something that just requires getting all the right people around the table, or in the room, and working together – and putting it out to the wider public as well.”

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

“We can’t do it all at once.

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

From Thursday’s meeting, Mrs Berry said there were already 35 members signed up to the new Oamaru Business Collective.

Anyone who owned a business in Oamaru was welcome to join, she said.

Mrs Berry said the group had three main objectives – to provide a collective voice across the business community, to strategise joint promotions and marketing and to offer support services in the business community.

“We are looking forward to working with council on major placemaking changes that will continue to enhance the architectural beauty of our town and will bring more foot traffic,” Mrs Berry said.

“The green space concepts that I presented has started the discussion of what could be achieved and it is great to see that council is looking at similar ideas.

“I would like to see this as a priority for council, and could a lower Thames St beautification be part of the overall Oamaru harbour strategy?

“We are a small town and I would like to see us looking at the town as a whole rather than in bites, because what happens in the harbour affects town and vice versa.

“We will be looking at a date in the near future to have another meeting to decide what aspects we would like to focus on as a group going forward.”

Anyone interested in joining the Oamaru Business Collective can email Mrs Berry at annabel@designfederation.co.nz.