Chat from the Chair
Mainstreet has been going about its business and also undertaking the strategic review of future direction.
Strategic Direction Review
Russell Bell of Balance Accountants was commissioned to facilitate a review of where Mainstreet has been, where it is now and where it should head for the next period of time.
Russell has worked with a steering group representing the various stakeholders of the organisation: businesses, property owners, residents, council, heritage and the wider community. I am very appreciative of Russell’s work and of the people on the review group who have put in significant time and effort in this important task.
Russell reported to the board which has endorsed it to go out to members for a special meeting to be held on 31 October. Members should by now have received the report and meeting notice. If you have not yet received this please contact the Mainstreet office and get a copy.
The reason for the special meeting is to allow full opportunity for people to listen learn and contribute. I urge members to come to the meeting. It is important that the board gets as much member feedback as possible to take the next steps in setting future programs. Russell Bell will be at the special meeting to present the report and recommendations and answer questions.
In anticipation of the meeting I felt it appropriate to outline some of what the executive committee does and what is seen as focus for the next period.
We have been actively engaged in presenting to council on a range of activities that relate to the Mainstreet area. In the last 4 months we have presented submissions on:
- Smoke free policy
- Alcohol policy
- Active travel policy
- Speed limit bylaw proposals
- Annual plan
- Ten year plan: funding review
- Economic and community development
- Trees policy and management
- Easter Sunday Trading
Members will have seen some newspaper reports as to submissions. I thank the members who answer our surveys and provide comment and feedback to Amanda and our staff. I encourage members to participate in this. It makes a big difference being able to tell Council that our members have been canvassed and our submissions are backed by numbers and hard data. The more member input we can include the stronger our submissions to council will be.
The whole process of community consultation is onerous for both council and for organisations like Mainstreet who have to be aware and need to respond in the best interests of our members. Not all proposals from city hall are perfect from the outset and it is good that Council listens and is willing to make changes. An example. In our annual plan submission we said that the amount of $100,000.00 budgeted for regeneration strategy work was inadequate to get anything meaningful done. Council increased the allowance to $200,000.00.
Amanda Gibbons and Bruce Dickson as our representatives on Council’s regeneration strategy committee are working hard to ensure that as much as possible of that $200,000.00 is spent in the CBD with first focus being improvements to the top block (Guyton Street/Ingestre Street).
Street maintenance agreement with Council
The 2017/18 contract costings for our central city maintenance contract were approved with Council. Maintaining this contract is a very important part of our operations. It generates revenue which supports a greater level of activity than we could otherwise consider. It also means we can best look after our CBD for the benefit of our members and the community.
The constraints on Council finances are understood and items such as the wastewater scheme are going to generate more pressures over the next decade. But cutting everything back to the bone is not a permanent fix. Sooner or later deferred work catches up.
Work has now started on budgets for the 2018/19 year. Council is still looking for savings and we do not want to run at a loss and have to dip into reserves to the benefit of general ratepayers. We also do not want to see the CBD rates rise to any significant extent from a reallocation of costs. We have spent a number of years pressing council to get to a targeted rate/general rate split that recognises the public gets just as much benefit from having an attractive CBD as our members and it is now generally at a much fairer 50/50 level overall. A few years ago it was heavily weighted against our members. The result has been that there have been reductions rather than increases and we would not like to see that reversed.
Amanda and I got invited to address councillors with thoughts as to how Council could fund its operations over the medium to longer term. This gave opportunity to talk on a wider basis than just addressing annual plan budget items.
We started by saying that Whanganui rates are not too high but are too low to maintain the current level of city amenities. That the problem is the ability of current ratepayers to afford what should be collected to maintain and enhance the parks and sportsgrounds and library, art gallery, shopping precinct and all the other things that make Whanganui a desirable place to live. Whanganui has not been a wealthy and growing centre since the 1930s when it was New Zealand’s fifth largest city.
The view we expressed was that Whanganui either cut back on what it offers to fit within a town sized budget or take steps to grow the rating base so there are more people to contribute to the costs of running a city. More people would add some costs at the margins but a 10% population increase would not translate into a 10% cost increase. It would still cost about the same to run museum, art gallery and city parks and wastewater scheme whether the population is 44,000 or 64,000. But the cost per person will be much lower with at the larger number.
I am very supportive of the direction given by CEO Kym Fell to Council’s economic development arm Whanganui and Partners to have a 4500 increase in Whanganui’s population by 2025. For the first time in the 44 years I have been in Whanganui there is a target to work towards. Not just feel good talk.
I have offered to contribute towards achieving that target because 4,500 new people would make a big difference to Whanganui’s future in general and the prospects for our members in particular. For instance, this number of new residents would conservatively mean 1,000 new residential sections as well as city apartments and upgrade and redevelopment of some of less premium areas. More people to spend money in the CBD will reduce pressures on our retailers and building owners. More central government services such as health and education where population based funding applies. But, above all, a feeling that the city is making positive progress. Go to it Whanganui and partners.
It gave me great pleasure last month to be at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the refurbished Watt fountain. It has been a long and costly process but this iconic city feature is now restored and set up for the next 100 years of its life.
Artists Open Studios
We have taken on a contract to run the 2018 event. We get paid a contract fee which includes a profit margin and it enables us to engage Kelly Scarrow for additional hours for the duration of the contract. Those are incidental benefits. The underlying reasons for taking up the contract is we know we can do it well and being event coordinators was considered to give the opportunity to maximise the benefits for our members through basing as much as possible of the activities around the centre of town. The event brings significant numbers of visitors from out of town. There will be a debrief after the event to check that the intended outcomes have been achieved.
Members will be interested to know that Council may now allow a split of rates where part of a building is used for commercial and part for residential without needing separate legal titles. This would apply in in CBD situations where there is a ground floor shop and a residential flat on the first floor. Address enquiries to Noelene Moosman at Council.
The split between targeted commercial rates and general rates for a number of Council activities have been progressively moved by Council to what can be regarded as a more equitable allocation. This includes a number of items of Mainstreet interest such as Wanganui in Bloom where it is now a 50/50 split in most cases. Not too many years ago the WIB split was as high as 87% targeted against 13% general.
Among things I would like to see happen over the next few years:
- Mainstreet’s area extend to include the riverfront/old town area
- Continuation and implementation of the central city revitalisation project
- Meaningful assistance from council for earthquake prone buildings
- Relocation of library into central city
- Improved destination marketing and signage
- Government departments and services relocated from Auckland and Wellington
- New uses for old buildings – particularly spaces above ground floor
- New industry and service businesses established in Whanganui
- Reintroduction of kiwihost or similar program for our members
- Improved coordination between city attractions such as riverboat, tram, and water activities
- Development of the port
- A nice bar and restaurant overlooking the river – the I site would be a great location
- A 4 or 5 star hotel in or adjacent to the CBD
- Upmarket inner city accommodation
- A CBD that can properly be acclaimed as the best in the country
Many of these are not core Mainstreet functions but our members suffer if nothing happens. Part of the responsibility of the executive I see is that Mainstreet does its best to get things happening. Not shrug shoulders and say it would be nice if it happened but it is someone else’s job.
I am standing down from the chair and from the Executive at this year’s AGM after 8 years involvement. I leave an organisation with good staff, good projects and contracts and a sound balance sheet. The strategy review will be invaluable for the incoming board to progress Mainstreet and its activities for the next period.
30 October 2017