Opinion: Change and connection in Hamilton’s CBD

Author: Thomas Gibbons, Thomas Gibbons Law

Hamilton’s CBD is built around change. Its centrepiece is Garden Place. Though some will argue that the centrepiece should be the Waikato River, the river runs through the whole city: it is more foundation than centrepiece. 

Garden Place is a place of change: once a hill, once a carpark, now the public centre of the city.

Now is the moment of greatest challenge and opportunity for city centres. Hamilton’s CBD has been revitalised in many ways over the past few years. Garden Place sees an ongoing tension between tinkering and proposals for radical change. Many existing buildings have been redeveloped, turned into modern spaces for cafes, professional services, and other uses. New buildings have also been put up, both in the core and at the periphery of the CBD.

There are major opportunities in these new builds. Many of them are large projects, attracting major national tenants – Union Square’s Rabobank building and TGH’s ACC new build come to mind. Waikato Regional Council has joined the CBD and increasing numbers of apartments are being built.  Hamilton remains a great place to live, easy to get around, more affordable than some centres, and earthquake-free.  It’s an easy place to choose, and these new projects, and business and government operations, help the city grow. There aren’t development contributions on new builds over six levels that have urban design approval. Hamilton’s CBD will continue to grow up, more beautifully.

Of course, much is happening outside the CBD as well. To the south, development in Peacockes is progressing. To the north, we have Te Awa Lakes. To the east, the Ruakura Superhub and associated development is of a huge scale, befitting a project of national significance. The activity in the periphery links to the core.

There are some challenges for the CBD as well. With lockdowns, and then home isolation requirements as Omicron spreads through the community, many people have chosen or been forced to work from home, and this has been to the detriment of CDB businesses. Cafes, retailers, hospo – they have all been through a wringer of uncertainty, requiring strong levels of resilience. Unfortunately, at the same time these businesses have been doing it tough, the messaging that buying a coffee will stop you getting a home loan has been coming through loudly. Let’s hope that messaging changes shortly, or that people give up Netflix instead. 

There have been assertive calls to support these businesses, and all businesses and government agencies – with or without a CBD presence – have a role to play in getting people back to the CBD.

Those in the property industry are saying CBD demand is still strong. Hamilton still has plenty of space for new builds, and plenty of older buildings that benefit from redevelopment and repurposing. Property Council has been at the head of the charge to improve the CBD, issuing its manifesto a few years ago, and taking some satisfaction in seeing these improvements happen as our ideas are adopted by others.

Change is a constant, and Hamilton’s is a case study of growth and change. The property industry will continue to do its part. Hamilton’s CBD is a place where people live, work, play, and connect – and those connections are made stronger by people actually being in the CBD. 

CBDs are special. That was Property Council’s message in its manifesto, and remains true today.  The CBD is the heart of a city, and Hamilton is fortunate to be both a river city and a garden city – centred around Garden Place. Garden Place is a microcosm of Hamilton’s growth and change and modernisation.  The CBD’s heart beats and hums, with construction activity, with new development and redevelopment, and with people.   


Thomas Gibbons

Thomas Gibbons Law

Thomas has spent over 17 years in the legal profession and is Director of Thomas Gibbons Law based out of Hamilton. His practice is focused on property law, including land development projects, subdivisions, unit titles, and local government. Thomas is the author of various books and articles on unit titles and land law topics, and has lectured in property and securities law for LLB and MBA programmes. He has a long history with Property Council’s Central/Waikato region, including as a past Waikato Branch President and current member of the Central Regional Committee.

Find out more about Thomas here.

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