The Christchurch city centre is finally taking on the shape of its future. Empty-sections-turned-car-parks, derelict buildings and construction workers no longer dominate the scenery.
In the retail precincts around the ANZ and the BNZ buildings, and a few blocks away in the innovation precinct, one can squint one’s eyes and not see a crane or a road cone.
Fancy restaurants, new offices, glossy shops, lanes and courtyards give these areas a Melbourne feel. It’s a glint of hope that a vibrant CBD is on the horizon.
ANZ Centre – a big-city feel
Huge screens on the front of the two-level Hallenstein Glasson megastore blast pop music into Cashel St and give it a big-city feel.
But in the lanes within the ANZ Centre, the atmosphere is peaceful. A six-metre-tall white tree sculpture, under a light and airy glass atrium, completes a zen look.
* The case for building gets stronger
* Viva la CBD
* Onehunga development selling 9 ‘affordable housing’ units
The centre offers similar chain stores to those found in a mall, minus the crowds, artificial lighting and cheap food courts.
A raft of fashion tenants, including Superette, Max, Storm, shoe shop Merchant 1948 and cosmetic store Mecca Maxima, have opened there. Other fashion giants, such as H&M, Topshop and Zara, are expected to open in the vicinity soon. Watch this space – it will become Christchurch’s fashion centre.
The building elegantly blends offices and shops. A tinted glass curtain wall glazes office facades and a “light box” on the corner of Cashel and Colombo streets sits above transparent shopfronts.
Businessman and landlord Tim Glasson built the $80 million complex on the old Triangle Centre site, bordered by Colombo, High and Cashel streets. Hallensteins had occupied the site for more than 100 years before the February 2011 earthquake.
White Tie Catering opened cafe Arbo in March and espresso and wine bar Arborista, which has an exclusively Canterbury wine list, in April. It is the business’s first move into the restaurant and cafe scene after 30 years of catering.
Arbo director Katie Duncan is excited to be part of such an engaging public space. She says the ANZ Centre has “a very cosmopolitan feel” with a “wonderful outdoor-indoor flow” and sun streaming into the atrium.
“You feel like you’re in a building in New York City. It’s got this city sophistication, but you also have this wonderful sense of space and feel at peace inside.”
The cafe and wine bar has been busier than expected, perhaps because of about 500 ANZ bank and engineering consultancy Beca staff moving into the centre.
People are coming in at the weekend as well “to get acquainted again with the centre of the city”, Katie says.
She has noticed many people starting at the Bridge of Remembrance and walking towards the city centre to explore new places.
“There is a spark to people when they come in. They feel excited about their new city.”
Opposite the complex, The Crossing, a $140 million Carter Group development, is still under construction, but has already signed fashion tenants such as Topshop.
In Cashel St, a sign with an artist’s impression of a bubbly, metallic ornamental air bridge to be built there boldly drives a stake in the ground: “The city starts here.”
BNZ Centre – a family atmosphere
From Hereford St, the BNZ Centre looks like another dull office block, but head down its lane towards Cashel St and there is a wide courtyard with children playing around beanbags while parents buy them icecreams at the Milk Bar.
Occupying the block between Hereford, Cashel and Colombo streets, the centre is home to bankers, Spark employees and government workers, as well as several shops.
Before the quakes, a complex of offices and shops, including Whitcoulls and the Shades Arcade, stood there. Now, colourful facades and shops make it a great destination for the whole family.
Facing Cashel St are jewellery stores Pandora and Michael Hill, Unichem Pharmacy and telecommunications company Spark.
In the complex’s laneways are juice bar Tank, giftware store Simply New Zealand, national fashion chain Repertoire, Gongli Chinese massage and locally owned Death by Denim.
ACC and law firm Cavell Leitch occupy offices upstairs.
Scorpio Books was one of the first tenants to move into the centre a year ago. The large family-friendly store is a cosy haven on a grizzly Sunday afternoon.
Bookstore co-owner Jo Hewitson says the first year was challenging, but foot traffic picked up just before Christmas last year, with more tenancies opening and office workers moving into the zone.
Jo says Scorpio had been eager to return to its pre-quake location with the same landlord.
Office workers browse the shop during their lunch break and families spend half-days there at the weekend.
“I really like the atmosphere of the centre. We are far from the main roads and it is very tranquil in the courtyard.”
It is still difficult for people to come in, though, with limited and expensive car-parking options and ever-changing roadworks to navigate, she says.
“People are finding their way in, but it’s not easy.”
Cafe Robert Harris, on the Hereford St side, is one of the busiest spots in the complex, with its comfy leather armchairs, large selection of cabinet food and friendly staff. It’s a good place to sit with a coffee and watch people discovering the nearby laneway that now leads somewhere.
Innovation precinct – quirky nooks and crannies
From the new retail precincts, a 10-minute walk along High St leads to the innovation precinct. Opposite C1 Espresso on Tuam St, the McKenzie and Willis building and its surroundings are among the most promising developments in the central city.
The beautifully restored and elegant McKenzie and Willis facade blends in seamlessly with the new buildings. The homewares giant moved out of the central city to Blenheim Rd in Riccarton after the earthquakes and has not returned. In its place is a mixture of offices and shops.
In the lanes around the McKenzie and Willis building, Malaysian restaurant Madam Woo, French restaurant St Germain and the Paperswan Bride boutique give the area a posh vibe.
Madam Woo co-founder Fleur Caulton says the popular restaurant chain had been looking for the ideal Christchurch location for three years.
“We wanted to find the right spot that was in the heart of the city with a reasonable amount of foot traffic, parking and, of course, sunlight.”
She says Madam Woo’s fifth restaurant in New Zealand is “perfectly positioned”.
“The atmosphere around the innovation precinct is nothing short of exciting. People are very welcoming of new additions to the area, because it is reflective of the city’s progress.”
A “steady flow of Cantabrians” have come to the restaurant since its February opening, with weekends just as busy as weekdays.
A few low-rise office buildings, which look like apartments, house St Asaph Chambers’ seven barristers and a European-style cafe, Espresso 245, which serves healthy Pure Cafe Co food and C4 coffee. Treats can be enjoyed inside or in the tranquil courtyard with wooden seats and trees in the lane.
Although it has a relaxed vibe now, this area is about to get a whole lot busier. Several former Re:Start tenants are about to open an upmarket food court on the ground floor of the McKenzie and Willis building. A Mouse Called Bean, Noodle Monk, Base Woodfired Pizza and Dose Sushi will be joined by the Bacon Brothers, who have gained a loyal following from the Christchurch Farmers’ Market at Riccarton.
Another revamped building at the St Asaph St end of the McKenzie and Willis development is home to House of Travel and Orbit.
At the Artbox precinct, on the St Asaph and Madras streets corner, the vibe shifts from posh to street art. Thai Box and Steampunk Laboratory are among the food options.
The cafe Unknown Chapter Coffee Roasters is further west on St Asaph St and in nearby Tuam St, the Vodafone building, C1 Espresso and Alice Cinematheque form a vibrant mix of offices and public spaces, including pedestrian areas and little gardens.
“People are excited about the new Christchurch that is rising around them,” Fleur says.
It has taken six years, but, finally, there is a sense the inner city is bouncing back.