The Resurrection of Tauranga: A City Reborn from the Ghostly Shadows

Tauranga, once labeled a “ghost city,” has captured widespread attention this week, with a viral tourism video showcasing abandoned storefronts and a bleak atmosphere. Startling both residents and visitors, this footage highlights the challenges faced by the city’s downtown area. While there’s no denying the grim reality, hope shines through with ambitious revitalization projects aiming to transform Tauranga into a bustling and thriving urban center.

A Ghostly City Unveiled:
Zoe Does’ TikTok video shed light on the current state of downtown Tauranga, revealing that approximately 90% of the shops are either closed or available for lease. Non-residents were taken aback, describing the atmosphere as “gloomy,” “lifeless,” and “dreadful.”

Acknowledging the Crisis:
Former Downtown Tauranga chairman, Brian Berry, lamented the city’s demise in his final report this year, proclaiming it to be “dead” and in a state of decay for years. According to data from Tauranga City Council, as of January 2023, there were 514 operational shops and 166 vacant ones in the main street area. This marked an increase from 422 operational and 281 vacant shops recorded in January 2019.

Factors Contributing to the Ghostly Phenomenon:
Gareth Wallis, the council’s General Manager for City Development and Partnerships, cited several issues that led to downtown’s decline. These included the need for strengthening or redevelopment of buildings classified as at risk of earthquake damage, the rise of large suburban shopping centers, the impact of Covid-19, and the previous council’s inconsistency in progressing downtown plans.

A Glimpse of Hope:
Despite the gloomy picture, there is a plan to breathe life back into the ghost city. Tauranga City Council is now dedicated to activating the downtown area with various projects, including the creation of new civic spaces, waterfront transformation, and public and private funding support.

Te Manawataki o Te Papa: A Beacon of Change:
One major project in the works is the NZD 360 million ‘Te Manawataki o Te Papa’ civic space. Set to be completed by 2028, this development will house a library, community hub, civic meeting spaces, exhibition galleries, theaters, and art museums.

The Commissioner’s Perspective:
Commissioner Ann Tolly acknowledges the substantial cost of this project amidst financial challenges. However, she believes that the development will celebrate Tauranga’s heritage and culture, transforming it into a thriving and vibrant city center with an estimated 5,500 visitors per day in just over a decade.

Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain:
Newly appointed Mayor, Ash Zee, acknowledges the city’s current vacancy rates but urges people to see the difficulties as “short-term pain for long-term gain.” She points out that Tauranga is not alone in facing high vacancy rates, with chain-style retail outlets affected by the construction of large shopping centers like Tauranga Crossing and Bayfair.

A Vision of Transformation:
Tauranga City Council, along with private sector investments totaling NZD 2 billion, is committed to facilitating significant changes. The city has seen a trend of innovative and new businesses relocating to the downtown area, with some major companies planning to return in the next 12 to 18 months.

While the current state of downtown Tauranga may be disheartening, there is a glimmer of hope shining through the shadows. With ambitious revitalization projects underway and a vision to turn the city into a bustling and vibrant hub, Tauranga is on the path to becoming a city reborn, transcending its ghostly past to embrace a bright and prosperous future.