There is still a way to go before the number of businesses in the central city reaches pre-quake levels.
The latest quarterly report from tourism, events and economic development agency, ChristchurchNZ, says there are 3897 businesses operating in the central city – 65.1 per cent of the pre-quake level.
Central City Business Association chairman Brendan Chase said it took other central cities decades to fully develop and it was working well with ChristchurchNZ to improve numbers.
“By coming in and exploring and shopping, that is the biggest contribution people can make to the central city. It will attract more businesses and more people,” he said.
“I think our biggest challenge is just altering people’s perception, we need to disrupt those patterns of behaviour.”
He said a lot of residents from both Christchurch and Canterbury were stuck in the idea that parking was difficult and there wasn’t much to do, which was not true.
CCBA manager Paul Lonsdale said the rebuild was like “climbing a hill.”
“The story for the central city is we have to differentiate from other shopping destinations. The more big businesses we can get in will help support the growth and birth of the little businesses,” he said.
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson has called for action from the city council in its Annual Plan to prioritise development of the CBD.
“We are not yet back to business-as-usual, so we need to make sure central services are prioritised and that we are encouraging good, strong, robust conversations around areas that can deliver the most impact, “ Ms Watson said.
“This will be key to changing our narrative from a post-earthquake rebuild story to an example of a small, but innovative, resilient and courageous city.”
ChristchurchNZ general manager of strategy, insight and policy Anna Elphick said while business numbers haven’t increased significantly, the number of employees has grown by almost 7000.
“The reason that employees have grown faster than the number of businesses is that larger businesses tend to be the first movers back into new office developments, and newer buildings,” she said.
“Traditionally smaller businesses have operated out of lower grade (and cheaper) buildings. Many of these were lost in the earthquakes.”
ChristchurchNZ general manager of innovation and business growth Richard Sandforth said in an “ideal world” there would be more businesses back in the CBD.
“But businesses have made rational business decisions around alternate accommodation, and are tied into leases which means moving back cannot happen as quickly as we would like,” he said.
“As part of our business attraction strategy, attracting new business specifically into the central city is a priority.”
The report showed visitor spending in the city grew by 12 per cent in 2018, outpacing the national growth of four per cent.
It also said the city is “uniquely placed” within New Zealand to be able to handle a significant growth in population.
“Christchurch’s strong economic fundamentals, available land for development and strong rebuild platform make it uniquely placed in New Zealand’s urban centres to absorb significant growth without the additional costs
and challenges facing other cities.”