Getting more sweetness and sparkle back in Hamilton’s central business district was given a financial boost by a Hamilton City Council decision to confirm $85,000 for a revitalization drive.
Council members unanimously approved the allocation of funds. It will be used in a program run by the Hamilton Central Business Association to help CBD recover from the “unprecedented freeze” caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns and other restrictions.
The campaign is designed to boost economic and social activity downtown, as we adapt more to living with the virus, by urging more workers and shoppers to return, with safety in mind.
Hui’s board heard praise for efforts in developing the multi-faceted campaign and collaborative input from businesses – including Waikato Times Through financing, products and in-kind support.
But there was also concern that hospitality venues and small businesses outside the CBD were losing support due to the focus on the inner city.
Executive Vice President Sean Murray said at the meeting that the $85,000 was about a third of the campaign’s total value.
About the amount of input from the business, Murray said, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen that happen.”
Mayor Paula Southgate welcomed the campaign at Thursday’s extraordinary meeting, saying, “We’ve all been through a very rough time… and the CBD has taken a really hard hit during Covid times.”
Now, she said, it’s good to see signs of rejuvenation and life “is starting to seep in again.”
“It’s been abandoned in a sense,” Deputy Mayor Jeff Taylor, said of the Covid-induced exodus from the CBD.
“We are all aware of the unprecedented freeze that our central city and other central cities have been subjected to since Covid came to our shores.”
Taylor said the association’s overall campaign has been about welcoming the return of CBD as the country generally attempts to emerge from the “nightmare” of recent years.
“Now is the time to start being optimistic again. It’s time for hope, time for recovery.”
The well-timed campaign had a great “feel good” aspect. “Let’s all help.”
Chancellor Ewan Wilson said the campaign was a clear signal that the city was open for business. “I hope this will encourage more companies to encourage their employees to come back.”
Sarah Thompson, a council member, said the campaign will speed up the renewal process that is already happening.
“After months of being on Zoom, I think people are craving personal contact with each other and [are] Also really keen to get out and move around.”
Chancellor Mark Donovan said he almost ditched Hamilton a few years ago because of where he’s headed. The vibrant CBD was believed to be the ‘good spirit of the city’.
“Now I’m starting to see some of that stuff coming back. I can see it in this plan.” However, Donovan added that good execution is key.
Commenting on the multi-sectoral collaboration, Finance Committee Chairman Rob Pascoe said it helped get the activities the city wanted “rather than what the council thought the city might need”.
Pascoe, however, expressed concern about the way in which the focus tended to help the inner city, and the danger of forgetting the suburbs of Hamilton. He said that where he lives on Bowerman Road, the shopping facilities in Rototona Village are becoming more important under the Covid restrictions.
“There are hospitals, and small businesses for moms and dads in those areas. So I think we also need to be careful not to just focus on one area of the city, and put all of our finances and energies into that.”
“We also need to be cognizant of the fact that there are … small businesses that need similar support, and I think sometimes they might get overlooked.”
Meanwhile, in a statement endorsing the $85,000 contribution, the Waikato Chamber of Commerce said the association’s campaign should be one of several in which councilors are investing over the next two years to enhance Hamilton residents’ enjoyment of the Waikato River and the CBD.
CEO Don Judd said the $85,000 should be the start of a sustainable investment, not just a one-off.
“Now is the time to invest in an amazing city center that everyone can be proud of and enjoy.”