Specialist help to rejuvenate Hamilton’s heart
First Retail Group MD, Chris Wilkinson, who has gained much business acumen in this area through being hired by property owners and retailers to city councils in places as diverse as Gore, the UK and the Pacific Islands to restore retail buoyancy, is very hopeful for Hamilton.
Hamilton’s central business district has become characterised by empty stores, parking problems and antisocial behaviour, which have come up against business owners and retailers fighting to keep the city’s heart beating.
“And that is the first reason things are looking bright”, says Wilkinson.
“There’s actually a good foundation of well-resourced landlords in the city.”
“The engagement level of business here in Hamilton is very high compared with some of the other parts of the country.
“There’s a huge pride in Hamilton by these businesses and I think that says a lot.”
Of course, that’s not much good without a supportive council, and Wilkinson says Hamilton City Council is “highly engaged” compared to some of the government bodies he has worked with around the world.
“I think the key thing is the leadership here is good because they have a commercial understanding whereas in other places there’s not that commercial understanding,” he says. The proposed district plan to get people living in the CBD is ‘fundamental’ as it gives a city diversity and a sense of vibrancy,” Wilkinson points out.
“Council wants to understand where the opportunities and the risks are but they want to give pace to these projects,” he says of things like the plan or development of links to the Waikato river.
That is a project Wilkinson strongly supports as developments over the last few decades have “turned their backs on the river, which is one of the best features of Hamilton”. He also wants to see stronger links between the city centre and Hamilton Gardens, through, for example, regular shuttles, especially during peak tourist season.
“The company will work in partnership with Hamilton Central Business Association and the Council in developing strategy and supporting stakeholders during the town centre transformation,” concludes Wilkinson.