Celebrating the central city


Win or lose, awards are good for businesses, providing an invaluable opportunity to pause and take stock.

Think of them as a health check, says Vanessa Williams, general manager of Hamilton Central Business Association.

“By being able to look at your business, to wrap it up for an award, you can see how it’s working, or if there are things that can be improved, or efficiencies that can be made,” she says.

While Williams has her own upcoming CBD Celebration Awards to promote, she supports the concept generally, including those run by the Chamber and Property Council.

“I genuinely believe people should enter awards. I’m a huge advocate for them, I think awards are a really good time for you to look at your business and see what you’re doing.”

It is, she says, a time when people can reinvigorate their passion for business.

“I would assume that every business owner should be wanting to make their business stand out from their competitors. So when they’re looking at awards, they’re having to tell that story of, why they are the best they can be, and if they don’t have a compelling enough story, why not? And what could they change?

“You know, not everybody can win, and not everyone can get second or third. But even just being a part of it, and putting yourself in that playing field, I think is just a really good thing to do.”

Hamilton’s CBD awards open for entries on July 16 and are open until August 30, with judging to follow through September and the awards evening being held on October 20.

Williams, who loves a big reveal, isn’t quite ready to announce this year’s venue, but says it will have two useful elements. “We’ve basically locked in a venue that has power and running water, which is exciting, because it’ll be the first time we’ve ever done that!”

Previous awards nights have all included a strong element of theatre while showcasing the city in different ways, from the former Hamilton Hotel, where Williams read out a message from the Queen, to last year’s transparent marquee on the river bank.

“It was a really tough act to follow from last year. So rather than trying to compete, we’re going very different. Let’s just say that we are suitably wowed by the commercial development that’s happening in the city.”

Categories include retail, hospo and service along with development of commercial spaces, social media and social responsibility.

“We’re very mindful of businesses looking at their social responsibility, whether that’s around sustainable business, green business, giving back to the community. There are some wonderful stories out there of what different businesses are doing to be part of their communities, and they’re worthy of being told and recognised. And so we are hoping to see some really good stories come out in that space.

“We have a lot of awards because we’ve got that full breadth of everybody that’s involved in being in the CBD,” Williams says. “We want people to come to the awards night and be part of celebrating the central city. So, win or lose, you still get to be a part of celebrating all of that with everybody.”

As for the central city itself, Williams says the high-profile builds rapidly taking shape bring credibility to the city for organisations that might be thinking of shifting their head office. “These big builds do symbolise that coming of age.”

With that critical mass comes boosts to hospo and retail, particularly the independents. She cites the “cool mix” of predominantly independent businesses on Barton Street, and also points to Alexandra Street, which includes a cluster of Asian food shops.

“That’s one that I just find absolutely fascinating. It’s really cool. Because it gets a nightlife that’s quite different to a pub-club nightlife – which again, we need that too – but then you get this community that comes down, it’s not a drinking community, it’s very much a social community but quite late.  And whether they’re going to the cake shop, the bubble tea shop, the dessert shop, there is a real buzz down there.

“And I think that that’s what central cities create spaces for.”

She credits Boon Street Festival with helping create a variety of spaces.

“So we get these different looks, different visuals, and different places of interest. I think that that will continue to grow.”

When street changes are trialled

Hamilton City Council’s trial of closing Rostrevor Street and changes to Ward Street have provoked plenty of comment. Waikato Business News asked Vanessa Williams for her take.

Rostrevor Street

I think that Rostrevor Street being on that western town belt, I can definitely see that as a backyard for a lot of residential living. Really creating those green spaces, I think is imperative.  Does that particular street disrupt that green space? There’s probably a few streets that disrupt that green space a little bit.

I think there’s potential to look at temporary closures of that street. To me, I personally would like to see investigation into – and this is what I understand the trials are about – let’s have it open for commuters Monday to Friday. Maybe let’s close it Saturday, Sunday. That’s where I think that these trials can be useful. And maybe it’s not weekend, maybe it’s just when there’s events on. I do know that Rostrevor Street does support commuters with parking and with that driving. I think that often things are looked at as these permanent solutions that are 24/7, and they don’t have to be.

That whole area does require a lot in terms of amenity. I’m very mindful that it doesn’t have that amenity yet – toilets, tables and chairs. It hasn’t had that investment yet to make it as usable as possible. I think a lot more could be made of it – you know, could there be a skatepark put over there? I would say yes, I’d love to see an inner city skatepark. I think they work incredibly well in well-populated, busy central cities. And that could be a real drawcard.

Whatever is decided with Founders – and  can it be decided quickly? – to me, it lends itself to creating more of that backyard space. I would love to see some really well thought out green space with leisure activity in there.

Ward Street

I think a lot was tried on Ward Street. So there was a lot of disruption –  cycle lanes have been tried, changing traffic flows have been tried, reduced parking has been tried. It’s a lot in one trial.  It’s quite visually confusing. I personally would have liked to have seen a lot less done and maybe staged up on the trial, rather than full impact at the beginning and then stage it down.

It’s a very difficult street as well, because it is a traffic flow street. It is a really busy street. You’ve got so much happening. It wouldn’t have been the street I picked to trial those things.

There are business implications for Ward Street,  some of them positive, but unfortunately, there are some negative implications

I get people are wanting to see streets used in different ways and that’s been the feedback, but we have public spaces. I’m not sure that we needed to take over a street with that element.

I also do have to say that on the car parking side, no place has enough car parking, and we don’t have enough streets for car parking. So I’m reluctant to want to take it away while we haven’t worked through what we’re replacing it with.

I think the concept of doing a trial is a good one to inform future decision making. And this has probably been a huge learning curve. So there will be lessons learned, there will be things that went well, things that didn’t go well, feedback that was received, all of that. So I would imagine that going forward, if there are more trials, that they will just get better and better.


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