By TRACEY ROXBURGH
Shattered windows, lost stock, closed footpaths and near-constant noise.
Two months after the start of Queenstown’s CBD upgrade beginning, the length of Beach Street, some business owners are already tearing their hair out.
While all spoken to by Mountain Scene are supportive of the work, questions remain as to how many businesses will survive to see the finished product, with construction having a
further negative impact on their bottom lines.
Aotea Gift Centre co-owner Richard Hanson says last week several of his Lower Beach St premises’ windows were ‘‘shattered’’, and $2500 stock outside the store written off, after a
digger, he believes, hit a high-pressure pipe.
‘‘The pressure of the water basically blasted all the gravel up into the air and it went everywhere.
‘‘They basically blasted gravel [and] it shattered all the windows.’’
He says the only blessing of Covid’s impact on tourism is there were not pedestrians put in harm’s way.
‘‘If it had been Chinese New Year two years ago, you’d probably have 10 people in hospital.’’
Slow store director Martina Blanchard says she’s seriously contemplating walking away from the three-year-old shop.
The only thing that’s got the business through to this point is a strong online presence and good support from casual customers.
But the walk-ins are now drying up because they’re struggling to access the store, and online sales aren’t enough to keep the doors open for the business given her rental costs.
‘‘It’s going to go on for the next year.
‘‘My landlord has discounted my rent, but it’s just not enough for being an online base.’’
While her store has benefited from shoppers to Saturday’s Creative Queenstown Arts & Crafts Markets, held on Earnslaw Park, even those people have been taken away — the market has been moved to the waterfront at Marine Parade/Rees St.
There are now also limited crossing options on Lower Beach St so people need to detour to get to the northern side of the street and, at times, ‘‘they close it off fully’’, without warning.
She, too, has lost stock — damaged beyond repair by dust — and says she wanted to ask the council about receiving some compensation for the loss of customers, at least, but received an email telling her council won’t issue any rates relief.
A Downer employee delivered popsicles to the store recently to apologise for the disruption, but ‘‘popsicles won’t pay my rent’’, she says.
Hanson says the work’s also having an impact on his bottom line, but notes ‘‘if you’re pretty close to zero it doesn’t make a huge change’’.
‘‘We’ve just got to hope they can go as fast as they can and get out of there — but those works are going to go right through the centre of town.’’
‘Committed to supporting local businesses’
The full response from council property and infrastructure GM Peter Hansby:
“Unfortunately compensation is not something we can offer affected businesses.
“As highlighted in the original response to Martina, it is inevitable that some businesses in the town centre will be impacted by the street upgrade work and council is committed to reducing any adverse impacts as much as possible.
“This does not however, include any remission of rates for town centre building owners during the construction period or any other form of financial compensation for businesses.
“The team on the ground is working incredibly hard and is committed to supporting local businesses through the disruption.
“To expand on that, every day we have two ambassadors working on the ground in town.
“Their role is to support businesses by maintaining clean streets, clean storefront windows, support with moving rubbish/recycling to new collection points, as well as a number of other things that arise.
“A couple of examples of the ambassadors providing extra support include assisting members of Wakatipu Senior Citizens into their meeting place and back again in the afternoon; supporting the QRC graduation parade as we had an excavation in the middle of their route and moving firewood for a business as we had temporarily decommissioned their usual loading bay.
“The expectation is that this type of support continues to make the disruption as manageable as possible.
“To clarify, offering businesses ‘popsicles’ was not intended as any form of compensation or apology.
“This is a ‘reward and recognition’ approach for onsite contractors and it’s how we sometimes thank the team for a job well done.
“There were a few extras and we offered them up as a nice gesture.
“Pedestrian access is critical throughout the construction programme and while there might be short periods of time where there are blockages due to the nature of works, there will always be a detour and someone on site to help direct people if required.
“Lower Beach Street businesses were contacted late in 2020 requesting logos for a banner intended to advertise local affected businesses while the enabling stormwater upgrade was underway.
“The reason banners were to be put up at that point was because the hoardings around the project were high and solid.
“This project was completed ahead of schedule and therefore the banner did not go up.
“Now that the full upgrade of Beach Street is underway, the approach to fencing height and type has been revised.
“We are now using much lower, 1.2m high fences which maintain sightlines to businesses.
“We feel that maintaining visibility of existing business signage is more valuable than having higher fences and signs to businesses.
“We are producing directories to assist but on low fences, they won’t provide as much value to the business as pedestrians physically being able to see their signage.
“Finally, we were pleased to be able to work closely with the organisers of the Creative Queenstown Arts and Craft Market to ensure they easily access and operate in a highly visible location while the work on Lower Beach Street is underway.
“We know that the disruptions are challenging and we’ll continue to work closely with all affected businesses.
“We have no doubt that the end result will be something we are all proud of.”