1492588729643 - Call to make room for small businesses to return to central Christchurch

Call to make room for small businesses to return to central Christchurch

Christchurch business leaders are calling for the central city to find room for the little businesses priced out by the rebuild.

Construction and land costs have sharply pushed up central city rents, forcing out the small shops, service providers and non-profit organisations that were in cheap premises until the earthquakes.

Central City Business Association chairman Brendan Chase said such tenants could not live with “high rents or long leases”.

“They need to be light-footed. They’re not part of a chain and there’s no-one else carrying them financially.READ MORE: * Year seven of the rebuild – what’s ahead for Christchurch? * Cheap city office space hard to find * New shops and bankers move into Christchurch’s Cashel St

“It’s important to have a little shoe repairer, tailor or hairdresser that people can hop into. You need space for those who might be artistic, musical, seasonal, or want to be in the centre of things. It adds to the whole picture and creates character.” 

Chase called for a collective approach to providing premises to replace lost old buildings and small spaces.

“There’s no shortage of spare land. We need a new solution, if only for the next few years. We need to find a way to get them into the central city, the small ones and the new enterprises.” 

The issue was raised at a recent summit arranged by the association and attended by major landlords and business owners. Also present were the Christchurch City Council and recovery agencies Otakaro, Development Christchurch and Regenerate Christchurch.

Stella Li,owner of the China Kitchen restaurant in Papanui, said they could not afford to come back into the central city. The restaurant and takeaway outlet was in an alleyway off Cathedral Square before the earthquakes.

“The rents now are too expensive. As a Chinese restaurant our profit is too little, about 10 to 15 per cent. If we put up our prices, people just won’t come and we wouldn’t survive.”

Li said that while they would probably return “one day”, other issues needed addressing first, including traffic access, roadworks and parking.

Christchurch City councillor Deon Swiggs said pop-up, transitional, or shared spaces might be needed to solve the problem.

“We’ve got the big stuff taking shape. The culture and heart of the city will be in the next wave.

“It’s vital to have the small operators in the central city, it creates vibrancy. We need those mum and dad businesses, and that culture of innovation where people can try things.

“But affordability is the issue and there’s no easy solution.”

Swiggs said that when the post-earthquake exemption for commercial businesses in residential neighbourhoods expired, there would be a big opportunity for the central city.

“About 900 businesses will be looking for affordable premises. If we don’t get that right, if there’s nothing for them, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Regenerate Christchurch chief executive Ivan Iafeta said they had received feedback that more start-ups, entrepreneurs and creatives were needed for the central city to thrive.

They were telling land and property owners that such tenants wanted less risk with shorter leases, smaller spaces and lower rents.

Regenerate Christchurch was likely to consider the problem in the strategy it was creating for the central city, he said, “with a range of possible solutions to be explored”.

Research from real estate firm Colliers shows that while central Christchurch’s annual office rents range from $270 to $425 a square metre, the cheapest office rents in central Auckland and Wellington are $190 and $160 respectively, and Dunedin offers rents as low as $75.

Annual retail rents in central Christchurch are mostly from $350 to $1200 a square metre, while those in the other main centres cover a much wider range.

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