The group is made up of retailers, property owners and other local businesses. It’s been formed to increase collaboration between groups to revitalise the CBD, as well as to lobby the council to invest more in the main CBD area that Dunedin retailers are operating in.
It has amassed around 40 members so far, with a plan to reach 100.
Spokesperson and general manager of the Golden Centre Mall Simon Eddy told RNZ the main shopping strip along George St hadn’t had enough council and investment and attention.
A report by Bayleys last year found an increasing number of shop vacancies were cropping up in Dunedin’s George St shopping precinct. It said changing consumer habits were creating a retail exodus from what was once the city’s heart.
Six vacancies on the ‘golden block’ in August last year were unprecedented, Bayleys researcher Goran Ujdur said. A more recent analysis by RNZ this month found four empty shops visible.
First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson is advising the Heart of Dunedin group and says the goal for the city is to become an aspirational destination.
It already has a lot of the features to make this happen, he says.
“The design school down there has been a huge incubator for fashion design, with lots of style and cool designers like Tamsin Cooper. There’s no reason it can’t be a place where people head to for girls’ weekends, like Queenstown or Wellington.”
Another one of Dunedin’s hidden gems is its food and beverage offering, he says.
He says the contemporary cafes and coffee culture are on par with that of Melbourne, but not many people are aware of it.
“It’s just a question of getting it on the radar to be honest.”
One of the challenges the city is facing is increasing its profile not only with consumers, but with other businesses.
Wilkinson says international retailers and businesses in Auckland looking to expand don’t necessarily consider Dunedin an option in the same way they do with other major centres like Queenstown, Hamilton, Christchurch and Wellington.
However, the stakeholders involved with Heart of Dunedin have the resources and drive to achieve this, he says.
“The businesses are looking for collaboration – shared marketing ideas, to get on the radar of cruise ships. There’s strength in collaboration, and they’ve been looking closely at Wellington and Queenstown’s heart of the city groups,” Wilkinson says.
Heart of Dunedin was formed after a long-awaited $37 million upgrade of Dunedin’s CBD has been moved back by a year by the council.
The upgrade is mainly centred around urban design to revitalise the CBD.
Heart of Dunedin has lobbied the council to prioritise areas like George St in the upgrade, where the heart of the city’s retail is.