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End game: How part of Upper Beach St will look with the upgrade's complete

By PHILIP CHANDLER

Coming on top of Covid border closures, some retailers fear an impending dig-up of Queenstown’s town centre could put them under.

Council’s about to start a $60 million CBD street upgrade — a ‘shovel-ready’ project it’s co-funding with the government.

Retailers in Upper Beach Street, already affected by the O’Connells shopping centre redevelopment, believe the project, running from late summer till early winter, could be the deathknell for their already-stretched businesses.

‘‘It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire,’’ Love Chicken restaurateur Darren Lovell says.

Those spoken to all believe the beautification project will benefit them in the long term, but are calling for rates relief in the interim.

City Hall, for its part, is promising to provide support to businesses through the process, and says in Beach and Rees Sts, in particular, it will fence off small sections at a time rather than close the whole street.

It’s due to start ‘utility investigations’ on February 15, then start construction in early March.

‘Give us a break’: Beach St restaurateur Darren Lovell

Lovell says he doesn’t know how his business — a Covid-inspired pop-up replacing his renowned Fishbone restaurant — will survive.

‘‘It’s hard enough to get people into Beach St how it is.’’

While he’s happy the Aussie bubble’s on the cards, “in all honesty, what Australian is going to fly all the way to Queenstown to have dinner next to a construction site?”

The restaurateur’s main beef is the work comes after businesses have already suffered a long period of economic stress – in his case, since the China border closed in early February – “so nobody’s going to be cashed-up to weather the storm”.

Kaari Schlebach, who owns The Outpost, says her income’s about 65% down on the same time last year.

‘‘I’m not going to lie to you, we’ve seriously thought about closing, but we’re really committed to staying afloat.’’

Bracing: The Outpost owner Kaari Schlebach

One reason, she says, is “we’re one of the very few personally-owned stores in Queenstown central”.

From now till Easter is ‘‘when we have the opportunity to bring in the income we need to sustain us for the rest of the year’’, so starting work during that timeframe isn’t ideal.

‘‘There’s potential that the doors are going to open [to Australia] next year, and we’re going to be in the trenches.’’

Like Lovell, she’s calling on council to lower rates during construction.

“Our landlord has really come to the party as far as a reduction in rent but the rates and insurance are still really high.”

Frontrunner owner Paul Garvie says he doesn’t know why the big dig couldn’t happen in May and June – “it’s the quietest part of the year”.

Questioning timing: Frontrunner owner Paul Garvie

“Our biggest advertising is our shop window – if we look at what happened in lower Beach St when the road was cordoned off, I’m sure those businesses suffered.”

Ian Caldwell, who’s had The Gift Centre for 45 years, says his turnover’s already 20% of what it was a year ago.

“You can’t expect any of the shopkeepers in this street to survive if they’re going to lock this street down and not supply us with customers.”

Council:  ‘We’re on your side’

Council spokesman Jack Barlow says City Hall’s also worried about the impact of construction activities on Queenstown businesses.

‘‘It has been a tough year.’’

While City Hall’s beginning construction on January 18 — with utility investigations on Park St — to meet a ‘‘critical’’ government funding milestone, ‘‘we have a construction programme that will minimise impact on the busy trading season over the summer school holidays’’.

Barlow says it’ll fence off small sections of Beach and Rees Sts at a time to ‘‘minimise the number of businesses being affected at any point in time’’.

The ‘Wakatipu Transport Programme Alliance,’ handling the project, is “experienced in helping businesses navigate their way through complex construction projects”.

There’ll also be a team of people on the ground ensuring issues are quickly resolved.

And there’ll be extra signage to help businesses, and additional work undertaken to keep spaces around work sites as clean and tidy as possible.

scoop@scene.co.nz