The closure of Auckland’s Downtown Shopping Centre on Saturday the 28th May to make way for a major redevelopment of the site by Precinct Properties, represents a new leaf in the book of New Zealand retailing.
Forty one years ago in 1975, Downtown Shopping Centre opened to Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. It was a magical start to a significant shopping landmark in the heart of Auckland’s CBD. Nobody at the time would have imagined that in 2016 the centre would be demolished to make way for a new sparking retail model.
Downtown was in itself a carefully considered project, one of many shopping centres that had been developed in Auckland in the 1970s. This decade that saw the openings of St Lukes, Manukau, Shore City, Glenfield, Henderson Square, Wainuiomata and Maidstone Mall in Upper Hutt. The growth in shopping centre development in the 1970s was spectacular and Downtown was part of that significant growth.
A new centre will emerge on the site which will accommodate not only retail but commercial office space; all linked to an underground rail transport system. This does not remove the vision that the developers had for Downtown in 1975, nor the recognition of that accomplishment.
Since 1975, there has been huge population growth in Auckland, putting pressure on the availability of land, and cost has soared as a result. The original Downtown model (which was effectively just a shopping centre) did not make the best use of the site; hence the Precinct Properties purchase and the undertaking of the new development.
This is the first time in the relatively short history of New Zealand shopping centres that one is being closed for demolition and redevelopment. Other centres built in the same decade continue to trade.Though some are at best in the throes of a lingering death, others have seen their original model expanded to accommodate the population growth within their trade area, and most continue to perform against increasing competition. We are unlikely to see again shopping centre growth like that which occurred in the 1970s. New centres are being developed, but in far fewer numbers due to the lack of available sites.
Precinct Properties’ vision for the future of a new Downtown is to be applauded. It is a developer’s dream to take over an existing site and create something new that fits in with growing consumer demands. However, the economics, mixed with the range of new retailers who can trade successfully are most important to make the new model work effectively.
It is unfortunate that Precinct did not take the time to farewell this shopping centre in the final week with a rendition of “Downtown” just one more time. It would have been a suitable finale to a wonderful centre that served the people of Auckland well over a period of 41 years.