High Street may be under threat in rebuild

Posted 21 Aug 2012 by MediaStuff
Posted in Business , Rebuild

 

The man who helped regenerate Christchurch's flagging Lichfield Lanes can find few positives in the city's new vision.

Developer Lisle Hood has all but conceded the fight to retain Poplar St, once home to trendy bars and cafes before the February 2011 earthquake and bulldozers reduced much of area to rubble, and rebuild the High St precinct.

His hopes were dashed when the upper High St area was earmarked for the new innovation precinct in last month's blueprint.

The plan was "well thought-out and formulated", but an "admission of failure" because of the extent of central-city demolition, Hood said.

"It's another exit strategy presented to property owners and will result in the flight of more capital from the city.

"I'd love to be involved in this in some ways, but in other ways I think, ‘Why the hell would you bother?' "

The city needed "guidance and certainty", but the crystal ball was now "a whole loud cloudier", Hood said.

"When I first saw [the plan], I was absolutely flabbergasted. I thought, ‘This is a complete and utter disaster'. I have come to recognise that there's a few elements of it that are good, but as an overall plan I don't think it's really going to deliver to the city, in the longer term, what it really needs."

The Lichfield Lanes project had relied on re-engineering buildings that had "lost their relevance". Most were disused brick factories and warehouses and had some of the lowest rents in the central city.

"It was about adaptive re-use of buildings and bringing the area back to life. You can't do that in a new building," Hood said.

"That sort of [old] building stock has gone out of the city, so we're going to tend to have a more financially level playing field.

"The city needs those parts of the city that can offer cheaper rent for the start-up incubator-type businesses."

In his 10 years of involvement, "tremendous" changes to the High St/Lichfield St area were achieved.

"SOL Square, the Lichfield Lanes area and High St had gone through the largest change of notice renaissance the city had seen for many years. It's going to be very difficult to recapture that with new buildings."

It would take a "great deal of sensitivity" to recreate the lanes concept, he said.

"It can be done, but it's not an easy task. The appeal of the area was the brick buildings."

Hood backed those committed to reviving the area.

High St property owner Laurie Rose said Hood's view was "glass half-empty"."I'm all for retaining as much as I can. Even if I'm not involved in it, I still think that was the best approach to have," he said.

His Project Phoenix group was confident High St could be improved by the plan, but the innovation area and green frame left many unanswered questions.

He was unsure whether the green frame would have a "hard edge" with a dividing green space or a soft edge with some retail activity.

How much High St precinct land would be acquired was the crucial unknown detail.

"That may not preclude the development of the land in the manner that owners had originally intended," Rose said.

"There's no reason that I should feel totally negative, but because we don't have full information it's difficult to translate it into exactly what the opportunity delivers. There are some questions that require answers."

High St's character did not need to change because heritage retention was encouraged in the plan, he said.

New buildings could be in a "modern style that reflected the character of an earlier period".

"I don't see that there's anything inconsistent in developing a modern precinct to incorporate those aims. The whole point being that it wants to be distinctive in the city from what will be the new inner city retail centre," Rose said.

"That will be glossy and new I'm sure, and this will be glossy and new, but it can build on some of the emotional factors that existed previously and incorporate those in the character of the area as a whole."

The new High St could be "very attractive" to those wanting to live in the inner city, he said.

It would be handily placed to central retail and commercial areas and the entertainment hub.

"It's got identifiable benefits that don't exist in anywhere near the same shape or form in many other areas of the city.

"I think that puts it way ahead of the ball game," Rose said.

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