A neglected and vacant building on Parnell Road was aesthetically transformed via a colourful flower window wrap as a form of community protest by constituents of the Parnell Business Association this week.
Several retailers, residents and landowners joined together to place bright flower decals to embellish the exterior window front at 195 Parnell Road – a 700sqm vacant site located in the heart of the Parnell town centre.
The peaceful ‘flower protest’ was symbolic of a much deeper issue often seen by absentee landowners and demonstrates the levels of frustration from the Parnell retail community on vacant and unkempt buildings in the area and the activation was was published by The NZ Herald.
Neighbouring businesses have become increasingly irritated with the negative contribution to urban blight by these types of landowners (often based overseas) and are fed up by the total lack of interest in improving the appearance of empty sites. A local retailer, Lisa Caughey says: “In the post COVID economic climate Parnell businesses can no longer afford to have 195 Parnell Road bellowing tragedy, with its empty, flyer strewn, leaf filled vacant street face. 10 long years of trying to encourage the owner to tenant the heart of the street has come to nothing”.
Cheryl Adamson, General Manager of the Parnell Business Association, says that this particular site has been vacant for over a decade. The overseas landowner has refused offers to lease it out and has declined to even start negotiations with several local landowners who have offered to purchase the property.
“Over the years, our community has expressed absolute disdain with the vacant premises, it’s become an eyesore and has certainly impacted the overall image of our precinct. Repeated calls to the landowner to try and improve the building’s overall appearance has fallen on deaf ears,” says Adamson.
Managing Director of Property Supervisors and Orange Realty, Martyn Hamilton has worked in Parnell for 30 years and has seen many tenants come and go over this time.
“I remember a time when this premises used to be a Duty-Free Store and brought in busloads of tourists to Parnell. But, it seems the current landowner has absolutely no desire to lease out his premises, having been through pretty much every key leasing company in Auckland and turning down many opportunities for the most obscure reasons. We can no longer stand by and let this downgrade our neighbourhood – this shouldn’t be allowed,” says Hamilton.
“The idea to camouflage and window wrap 195 Parnell Road was a way to breathe life and vibrancy into a very rundown site, particularly at such a fragile time for small business owners who are adapting to a post-COVID era.
“As our local community continues to rebuild in the wake of this global pandemic, we have a responsibility to maximise the attractiveness of our surroundings, and to ensure empty buildings aren’t left in disarray, as this can often be an indicator of economic decline,” she says.
Adamson does acknowledge there are several key landowners in Parnell who have not only assisted struggling retailers, but also supported streetscape improvement initiatives and refurbished empty premises during this difficult time.
“Anecdotally, we’ve certainly heard of landowners who have demonstrated immense compassion for their tenants (and properties), especially during a time of huge uncertainty.
“We’ve equally, however, seen those who are totally disinterested in improving the appeal and attractiveness of the area, regardless of the likely improvement in their building’s value. At the end of this spectrum are a small group of absentee landowners, who often live overseas and are totally disconnected from the communities they affect.”
Additionally, the subsequent frustration and lack of empowerment by similar business associations and local authorities to influence desired outcomes on behalf of tenants has been debated for a long time.
Paul van Dorsten, Chairman of the Parnell Business Association says “This issue of absentee landowners is not just unique to Parnell, it’s an issue felt throughout the country. We have spoken to local Council and MP’s about this and there does not seem to be any provision in current legislation – we desperately need some kind of change.”
David Seymour, ACT Party leader and MP for Epsom also expressed disapproval of the landowners inaction.
“The owner of this property is being negligent and, in my view, antisocial. Unfortunately, it is impossible to draft a law that forces people to use their property if they do not wish to, without creating a Government power that could be badly misused. However, it would be helpful if the owner could show some respect for the surrounding community.”