The group wanting to build a new commercial complex in Middle Renwick Road finally have got their way. Outer Limits looks set to become a reality. Short term employment will be created during the construction phase, and longer term employment will be created will the opening of new retail shops. Blenheim residents will gain more choice when they shop for groceries, and the council will collect more rates. So far so good.
Unfortunately while Outer Limits has been promoted as being a bold new development, it's really a pretty conventional and uninspiring effort by developers. Build a new supermarket focused on competing on an image of low price, and inevitably it will be necessary to employ low waged staff. Build another construction warehouse, and in order to survive, there must be construction - of what? The wine industry is in crisis, and both Council, banks and developers are guilty of failing to look to diversify the region, so another construction warehouse could be a big white elephant.
A look at consumer behaviour is revealing. Super Value is not renowned for being the cheapest supermarket in town, however Redwood Super Value is often quite full. As the only supermarket servicing the south end of town, and within walking distance for a lot of people, higher prices are offset by convenience, time, and potentially fuel saved getting to and from the supermarket.
Fresh Choice is conveniently located for people living in Springlands, and people coming or going from Woodbourne or Renwick. The new complex will certainly compete with the existing Springlands shopping centre, but it's doubtful whether it will capture custom from people in other parts of the town.
Unfortunately the developers have bought into the New Zealand franchise mentality where every town (or shopping mall) has to be a carbon copy of every other one with the same shops in every place, and in spite of all the slogans, no unique personality.
Blenheim desperately needs developers, but developers prepared to be daring, prepared to take risks, and think outside the square. Developers, the council, retailers and other local businesses need to put their heads together to come up with ideas that make Blenheim unique and a draw card for visitors.
A great example of being different is Youell House. For some reason kiwis have an aversion to multi-storey buildings, but pretty much every other developed country recognises their merits. Land isn't wasted with horizontal sprawl, lots can be packed under one roof, and for any given area of ground more construction dollars are spent, and more rental can be collected. Often it's possible to combine residential and commercial use in one site, and heating and cooling is more efficient. Of course Blenheim would not be pretty with a skyline of high-rises, however Youell House got the mix right, being daring, but not going to ridiculous extremes. Blenheim needs more of that kind of mentality, and it needs locals to get on board and support it, otherwise there will be more along the lines of Outer Limits - supposedly radical, but in reality thinking strictly inside the box.