I Heart the Heart of Hastings

The heart of "The Heart of Hawke's Bay"

The heart of “The Heart of Hawke’s Bay”

I originally wrote this for a local page called “Fruitbowl” back in 2012.

Unfortunately, like a lot of things in Hawke’s Bay, it can take a while for action to happen. So I wasn’t surprised to read an article in the latest (November-December 2014) Baybuzz magazine decrying the neglect central Hastings is still facing TWO YEARS after I wrote my piece

What I want to know is how come Little old me can pick up on and write about things like this two years before other local media (closer to 5-10 years for our local government) and STILL NOTHING IS DONE ABOUT IT??!!

Maybe if more people read it something might actually eventuate, so here we go:

“I Heart the Heart of Hastings”

Hastings – The Heart of Hawke’s Bay has a problem. It’s a recurring problem and it could prove fatal, because the problem is with the heart of Hastings.

There’s an old saying that goes “Those who choose to ignore the past are doomed to relive it”.
Call it history repeating (sorry, Split Enz, but you were wrong on this one) or déjà vu, but hasn’t Hastings’ CBD been through almost the exact same problems they are currently facing all too recently?

Growing up in Napier in the 80’s a trip to Hastings was always a treat and an adventure. When Fantasyland, Bunker’s Toyworld, Rush Munroe’s and McDonalds (Hastings had theirs for a number of years before the golden arches arrived in Napier) beckoned, how could you resist?

It may not have been as big, exotic, or distant as Wellington or Auckland, but it was different to Napier and that was fascinating enough to me. Even today, while it doesn’t seem as exotic or far away as it used to, there are businesses in central Hastings that I won’t hesitate to go to, as I know they specialise in what I am after.

For decades Hastings’ CBD revolved around Heretaunga Street, the clock tower and railway line.
The old ring-road system, while a bit of an annoyance, actually helped keep the central city busy by making traffic loop around continuously and inevitably made people walk a bit further from their parking space to their destination – making the town look busier through more pedestrians and increasing the chance of impulse-buying at the shops they passed.

In the 90’s the ring-road system was scrapped, Kmart and the The Warehouse opened their large-format outlets across the other side of Queen Street, a mere few hundred meters away from Heretaunga Street and it almost killed off business in central Hastings outright.

While doing my Diploma in Marketing at EIT in 1998, one of our tasks was to come up with a concept (that was to be passed onto the Hastings District Council presumably) to help draw people back into the CBD. My plan involved moving the Information Centre into the (then empty) Westerman’s building and the bus / train station across the road from there. I was a mixture of delighted and wondering where my consultant’s fee was when I saw that happen a few years later.

The central city had a brief renaissance recently with, for a time, less empty shops than Napier’s CBD. But then along came Charter Hall with big money and big plans for big stores even further out from the centre of central Hastings and off we went again!

Promises and plans are made and broken. The plans for the unsold big stores kept getting smaller and smaller. That was not HDC’s problem, rather Charter Hall biting off more than they can chew. So why should the council bend their plans and rules to suit? How readily do they do that for small, local businesses? Hastings’ central city retailers and their association cried foul and protested to the council. HDC looked concerned and scratched its head. How many times does this have to happen before they learn?

The Hastings District Council said they didn’t have enough money put aside to do up all of central Heretaunga Street in one go as was planned. Focusing instead on the area around another development – the new Farmers store (at least this project is set to bring some activity back to the city centre). Yet somehow money was found to vastly improve access to the Nelson Park development, including putting in traffic lights across St Aubyn Street and extending the old railway station access road through to it, drawing even more traffic away from the heart of the CBD. Now further expensive expansion is planned for the Regional Sports Park. Where is the money they “can’t afford” coming from for this?

If Hastings District Council can’t afford to look after Heretaunga St, what happens if things turn messy, expensive or legal with Charter Hall, or whoever else may come along with deep pockets and big promises for that matter? What other concessions will have to be made or who else will suffer?

In just these past few weeks, the Hastings City Business Association (has anyone else noticed the “Retail Strategy” page on their website is blank?) severely dented its credibility by suggesting that putting a road through the very centre of town may be the answer to the CBD’s prayers. An arterial route right through the very heart of the problem could only be another ghastly wound from which what little spirit remains in central Hastings would bleed out of.

Hastings has enough problems with roads. To head north or south you no longer need to go through Stortford Lodge or Karamu Road with the temptation of the CBD nearby. A brief glimpse while passing through the expressway’s roundabouts to destinations further afield is the most people would now regularly see of the city.

Now there is the added possibility of yet another bypass in the offering – to the more affluent and vibrant Havelock North village. Once again you wouldn’t have to go anywhere near Hastings’ CBD. So many options are given to avoid the heart of central Hastings. Where is the encouragement to lure people into it?

Roads will not cure Hastings’ CBD’s problem. Mascots, slogans and paying out of town marketing consultants thousands of dollars will not cure the problem. Further outward expansion will certainly not cure the problem and neither will ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away. I’m inclined to think the problem with the heart of Hastings can be cured with something much smaller, but far more powerful.

They say “Pride comes before a fall.” Well, confidence, business, income and value in central Hastings have all fallen, but I would like to think pride can come after a fall and help cure central Hastings’ problems.

A local government proud of their city would not continuously sell large chunks of it off to the whims of big business without looking after the needs of their current, local, rate-paying businesses first.

Authorities who take pride in their city would not let the latest generation of professional beneficiaries spend their long, idle hours occupying the main street of their CBD, where they can intimidate innocent passers-by, scare off potential customers and current businesses, or use inner city green-spaces as public bathrooms.

And I would hope that, like me, customers proud of their city would forgo the sprawling car parks and behemoth, hangar-sized big-box chain stores on the city’s periphery for the quality products, expertise and personal service of smaller, local retailers in the heart of the city.

I still “heart” the heart of “The Heart of Hawke’s Bay” (do you see what I mean about slogans?) and I’m from Napier.

The decline of central Hastings has been depressing enough, never mind the negative publicity and vibe it has generated. Some CPR (City Pride Restoration) is required. Let’s hear more from Hastings people who are proud of the heart of their city.

Let’s see Hastings District Council and local authorities prove how proud they are of their city and its people by looking after what they already have before developing further grandiose pipe-dreams (or maybe some ‘new blood’ is required in the places of civic power?).

The stronger the heart of the CBD beats, the more energy, pride and lifeblood will flow throughout the rest of the city. Letting the heart of Hastings fail is not an option if our region is to prosper.

Hastings and Hawke’s Bay deserve better!

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