City Rail Link: Business area returns to life as junction reopens

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A dining district that has been closed off to cars for over a year due to major construction works is looking forward to the reopening of a key intersection.

Auckland city’s Elliott Stables was crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, with half of the eateries receiving notices ordering them to pay arrears in September.

But with the Wellesley St West and Albert St intersection reopening on Sunday, there is hope the district is slowly coming back to life.

Half of the eateries received notices ordering them to pay arrears of tens of thousands of dollars in September.

Ryan Anderson/Stuff

Half of the eateries received notices ordering them to pay arrears of tens of thousands of dollars in September.

The intersection was closed to through traffic in March 2020 due to construction on the $4.4 billion City Rail Link train upgrade.

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Works in this area will conclude on Sunday and move downtown to the Victoria St and Albert St intersection, which will close on Tuesday for two years.

A major city intersection will open after a year of construction, but response from businesses is mixed.

Ryan Anderson/Stuff

A major city intersection will open after a year of construction, but response from businesses is mixed.

Robert Aylwin, 49, is the owner and head chef at the restaurants Bao Baby Bao and Smash Bros in Elliott Stables.

He expects to close one of his businesses within a year after enduring losses of around $70,000, and is sceptical matters will improve.

“There’s just nobody here. Everybody is working from home, and they’re not coming back,” he said.

“The landlords want way too much for the rent, they’re asking for $80,000, for a tiny little shop in a CBD that’s on its last breath.”

The Wellesley St West and Albert St intersection has been closed for over a year due to construction on the City Rail Link project. It will reopen to cars on Sunday.

City Rail Link/Supplied

The Wellesley St West and Albert St intersection has been closed for over a year due to construction on the City Rail Link project. It will reopen to cars on Sunday.

Aylwin believes the Auckland city business district is in decline due to the coronavirus lockdowns, more people working from home and construction being a constant presence.

He said it’s “going to be a mess” for many years.

“I will definitely not continue on with Smash Bros, I’ll end up closing that, and I’ll go back over to Bao Baby Bao,” he said.

“I can make it survive, but if everyone around me goes down, than eventually I’ll go with it.”

CITY RAIL LINK

An intersection closure switch will take place soon to allow construction to continue for Aotea Station. It’s expected to be New Zealand’s busiest train station.

Five out of 11 struggling eateries at Elliott Stables dining village were served notices to pay rent and operating expenses or possibly lose their leases in September.

One restaurant, Besos Latinos, liquidated in October after being unable to pay arrears of tens of thousands of dollars.

Jordan MacDonald, 31, is the co-owner of Double Double, a coffee bar that opened two weeks ago in Elliott Stables.

He remains hopeful about the future of the district, despite his other business ventures in the city recording losses of $800,000 over the past year.

Artist's impression of the Aotea Station on Auckland's underground City Rail Link, due to open in 2024.

City Rail Link/Supplied

Artist’s impression of the Aotea Station on Auckland’s underground City Rail Link, due to open in 2024.

“It’s busier than we anticipated, and the foot traffic on Elliott St has been quite decent,” he said.

“I think at the moment it is slowly coming back to life, we don’t have the tourists or international students, but there are still a lot of people that live in the city, and not everyone can work from home forever.”

MacDonald said the city is starting to “roll back to normal” with the reopening of the intersection, and will return to the “beast it was before”.

“We’re just looking at opening weekends soon, so that will probably give us a boost if people know it’s easier to get here.”

Data from landlord Icon Group shows foot traffic is down 16 per cent in the Elliott Stables over the past last year. In the week to June 14, 8414 people visited the dining village.

City Rail Link is a project to erect two underground train tunnels and stations by late 2024 and transform Britomart station into a two-way through-station.

Chief executive Sean Sweeney said the intersection switch is necessary to build Aotea station, which is expected to be the country’s busiest railway station when it opens in 2024.

“Shops, cafes and restaurants and other businesses and offices in the area … will always be accessible by foot,” he said.

“When we finish building our world-class rail system for Auckland, the benefits will be huge – CRL will double the number of people within 30 minutes of travel of the central city, New Zealand’s largest employment hub.”

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