The Waitaki District Council needs to find new ways to encourage more tourists to walk down Thames St, a Lincoln University economist says.
Greg Clydesdale, whose expertise is economic growth, has applauded the work of the Oamaru Business Collective in seeking an upgrade of Lower Thames St – and suggests the council should also consider beautifying the area around the Oamaru Opera House and courthouse.
“This would create a Thames St walkway with a destination and photo opportunity at the other end,” Dr Clydesdale said.
“I wouldn’t put the town square there but perhaps removing the car parks and replace it with a grass strip and floral beds. This would integrate the three old buildings into a postcard-level view.”
While it could get more people walking along Thames St and spending money in shops, it would have to be designed well to stop tourists standing in the middle of the road taking photos, he said.
Dr Clydesdale’s family immigrated to Oamaru in the 1860s.
When he first visited the North Otago town in 1989 to research his family history, he was “stunned by the quality of the buildings” and always thought it had “huge potential”.
He started lobbying the Waitaki District Council, including making submissions on long-term plans, for a town square in about 2005.
“People like [Cr] Jim Hopkins seemed to really like the idea, but there was always other items on the agenda,” he said.
Oamaru could become an important regional tourism hub for the Waitaki district, but the council had to start maximising the town’s potential, he said.
A town square could frame and beautify the buildings in the area, and bring them together into an “integrated whole”.
“Oamaru lacks what you would call a ‘postcard shot’ – the buildings are all very attractive, but there is no Taj Mahal type monument,” he said.
“The town square brings the buildings into a cohesive unit.”
A centralised park would enable outdoor cafes to be enhanced on all sides of the square – including the Last Post, Steam, Cucina and Taste.
“There is some suggestion that these businesses would suffer,” he said.
“The truth is the opposite become the centre of Oamaru’s tourism.”
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher met with Dr Clydesdale last year to discuss his ideas.
“We’re busy with many things at the moment, but the CBD redevelopment continues to be a project we’re keen to get on to and make a difference,” Mr Kircher said.
“We need to pull together overall plans because it;s not just about that southern end of Thames St, it’s not just about Oamaru’s main CBD, it’s also about the North End, and we want to make sure we’re looking after all our business areas.”
At a community meeting in July, before the Oamaru Business Collective was officially formed, Annabel Berry presented a plan to revitalise Thames St by reducing part of the road from four lanes to two, and creating a town square.
Mr Kircher also presented a similar proposal, that he said the council had been working on behind the scenes, at the same meeting.
There had been some progress since then, Mr Kircher said.
“One of the main things is how the intersection works at the end, and tidying that up,” he said.
Parking was another issue, he said.
Meanwhile, the Oamaru Business Collective has launched a survey to get the public’s feedback on town revitalisation.
Mrs Berry, the collective’s founder, is also putting together a project team to work on concepts to present to council over the next few months.
“The first step is to get the public’s feedback on what they want in our town centre,” she said.
“What would attract them to town more? What are we missing? What is going to take the centre of town to the next level?”
The online survey was launched last month and closes tomorrow.
Last year, Mrs Berry had several meetings with council staff about the Oamaru Business Collective’s ideas.
“There were many positive discussions around the possibilities,” she said.
However, it was recommended that in order to move a town square project forward, the Oamaru Business Collective should develop its own concepts to present to the council.