Hamilton’s CBD hurts as north booms

10:00 AM Wednesday July 22, 2015 Colin Taylor

Shops in Hamilton’s Victoria St are among those seeing less pedestrian traffic.

Retail services in Hamilton’s CBD are suffering due to the phenomenal residential growth on the city’s northern urban boundaries along with accompanying commercial growth there, according to new research.

“Both primary and secondary shopping strips within Hamilton’s central business district are coming under significant pressure, with high levels of vacancies and softer pedestrian traffic,” says Ian Little, national manager of Bayleys Research.

Little says the success of The Base shopping precinct in Te Awa in attracting both retailers and shoppers is impacting on central city retailing.

“There is no quick fix to these challenges. Council plans to rejuvenate the CBD will take time to generate results,” Little says.

He says retail activity within the CBD’s biggest mall, Centre Place, is performing well with a $36 million upgrade in 2013 consolidating the venue’s position as the primary retail destination in the central city. However, rental levels in other nearby retail locations are not faring as well.

“Prime retail rents have generally remained flat over the past year, while those in secondary locations suffering higher vacancies have come under further downward pressure. Investment activity has been subdued to date. This is about to change with two major Hamilton shopping centre owners having announced plans to sell down their holdings. Kiwi Property Group has put its redeveloped Centre Place South complex on the market and Scentre Group has also placed Westfield Chartwell on the market.”

Little expects Hamiltonians are eagerly waiting to hear the city council’s plans for rejuvenating the central business district to have a stronger connection to the adjacent Waikato River.

“These proposed initiatives will both attract, and retain, more businesses and workers within the CBD as an increasing number of retail and commercial opportunities emerge outside the city core,” he says.

“The new Hamilton Plan with its particular focus on an active, strong commercial central city and the connection to the river and residential living is beginning. Links to the river have been particularly underutilised in the past and are now being addressed.

“Ultimately a more vibrant and rejuvenated city centre will attract more businesses and workers and lead to increased retail spend.”

Statistics NZ forecasts Hamilton’s population to grow by 29 per cent from its current level of 148,000 residents to 191,000 occupants by 2033.

“Much of this population growth is occurring to the north of the city in areas such as Rototuna North where attractive house and land packages are drawing more families,” the Bayleys Research report says.

“Proximity to employment zones such as Te Rapa Park, and newer retail centres such as The Base in Te Awa, will help underpin growth to the north of the city.”

Meanwhile in the commercial sector, the report describes Hamilton’s CBD office market as reflecting a “tale of two cities” – with tight vacancy levels among quality A-grade properties versus ongoing weakness and higher vacancy rates amongst poorer secondary space.

“Following a spike in large scale new office development in 2012/2013, levels of new construction have eased - with the emphasis having moved to speculative refurbishment and redevelopment aimed at upgrading older existing office stock.

“Te Rapa remains Hamilton’s other major office precinct and is occupied by a small number of prime tenants such as Ecolab and ACC.

“With much of the city’s population growth centred in fast growing northern suburbs like Rototuna North and Flagstaff, the push-pull of office occupiers between the CBD and Te Rapa is likely to continue despite the council’s district plan encouraging CBD office development over other areas,” Little says.

According to the Bayleys Research data, the overall Hamilton vacancy rate for industrial properties stands at a low 5.1 per cent across the city ranging from a low at 1.4 per cent vacancy rate in the Te Rapa precinct, to a high of 8.5 per cent in and around Avalon.

“The low vacancy rate recorded in Te Rapa reflects the fact that a majority of development is modern, and has been developed on a design-build basis. Frankton, a far more established precinct, houses older style premises. These however remain popular with small engineering and service companies with agency reports suggesting that vacancy has been trending down over the last two years,” Little says.

Ian Little.jpg

Ian Little of Bayleys.