Hamilton’s 2019 CBD Celebration Awards take place on September 11 on the top floor of the former IRD building. For the story behind these remarkable business awards, NZBusiness spoke to Vanessa Williams, GM of the organising body – the Hamilton Central Business Association.
NZB: What makes Hamilton’s CBD Celebration Awards special and why limit them to just the CBD?
VANESSA: The Hamilton Central Business Association (HCBA) operates under the Business Improvement District (BID) model which means membership of the Association is strictly defined by a geographical area – in our case Hamilton’s CBD. Therefore the Association is in place to represent the needs of the central city businesses and to create a dynamic business community. Hosting our annual CBD Celebration awards is one way we like to recognise, showcase and celebrate the fantastic businesses that are on offer in Hamilton’s central city. The businesses based here contribute a significant amount to our city and this is reflected in our CBD going from strength to strength as it continues to evolve and grow.
NZB: Having an iconic venue seems to be part of the traditional appeal of the awards. What can you tell us about the venue for this year’s awards?
VANESSA: There is a method to this madness of venue selection. Although it takes a lot more work to take these construction sites and turn them into a showpiece for the evening, it is important because all these places will result in having a significant impact in creating the CBD that everyone wants. The constructions sites have all been in key locations on the Waikato River, highlighting the direction the CBD is finally going, building the city and creating ambient surrounds onto the natural river landscape. Past sites include the award winning Riverbank Lane development that sits alongside the award winning Victoria on the River inner city park; the former Hamilton Hotel that is the development site for the Waikato Regional Theatre; and now the former IRD Building that holds a prominent position overlooking the Claudelands Bridge and the Waikato River. There have been many whispers around town on what this building will eventually become with many wishing that the height and subsequent stunning view the building offers, will see this turned into a much needed hotel for the city.
NZB: What can you tell us about the make-up of the awards entrants this year? Anything out of the ordinary?
VANESSA: HCBA has been holding awards for the past 10 years and in 2017 revamped the awards to be more appropriately aligned with the businesses located in the CBD. This included specific CBD Success Awards for each key sector represented including professional services, trade services, retail, hospitality and tourism, social enterprise and youth.
In addition to this, new awards were launched known as the CBD Best Awards, which recognise businesses contributing significantly to the revitalisation of the CBD but perhaps not fitting into the Success Award categories. These include Best Development, Best New Business, Best Experience, Best Inclusive Practice and Best Sustainable Practice.
In line with this it was decided that all contributors to the awards, from the judges to the caterers, were required to be from Hamilton, further reinforcing the celebration of businesses in this city. We are extremely proud to say that our venues, caterers, beverage providers, lighting, photography, event designers, judges, MC and sponsors are all based in Hamilton and we are determined to keep this local support.
I am constantly wowed by the calibre of business based here in Hamilton’s CBD. We compete on every stage – local, national and international – and that is incredibly special. I feel honoured that the HCBA is able to recognise and celebrate these businesses as they are more than worthy of it. We have received a record number of entries this year with the largest number in the tourism/hospitality category, which is not a surprise considering the growth we have had in the hospitality sector over the past few years.
NZB: How does Hamilton’s CBD compare today with the past? What makes it stand out and what trends have you noticed in recent times?
VANESSA: Hamilton’s CBD continues to grow and evolve to meet both the increasing and changing needs of the city and its people. Supported by a growing business district, city investment, commercial development and community activations, Hamilton’s central city is on a pathway of positive transformation one property and event at a time. We have businesses moving into the CBD on a weekly basis and major planned developments over the next two to three years.
Retail spend and pedestrian counts are going up, vacancy rates and safety concerns are going down. There is a great feeling around the town and you can see development and investment at every turn which is validated by the statistical data.
There are 23,000 workers based in the CBD and a growing number of business units consolidating into the central city, taking advantage of a large buying audience right on their doorstep. Likewise, city workers are able to access an enormous range of products and services and city amenities within walking distance of their place of work.
There is growing residential/mixed use builds and the marketplace is moving towards quality, smaller spaces with more amenities. Landlords are now creating more adaptable, functional spaces that can incorporate more than one offering or tenancy.
NZB: What other CBD highlights do you look forward to during the year? What standout events do you have planned for the rest of 2019 and 2020?
VANESSA: We are shortly to start our CBD activation programme which brings vibrancy to public spaces in the CBD through activation, events and people. Council have supported us to put on a calendar of central city entertainment and it is fantastic to see things going on all around the city. Last year we were involved in creating, promoting and supporting 110 events in our four public spaces. We submitted our CBD activation programme as an abstract to the International Cities, Towns and Communities Society Conference (ICTC) being held in Townsville, Australia in October 2019 which was accepted and I will be travelling there to present this as a session within the topic of city revitalisation.
We are collaborating with Hamilton Waikato Tourism to launch the Hamilton Ambassador Programme – designed to educate and excite locals about their own backyard and celebrate all that is good in Hamilton’s past, present and future. Businesses will be encouraged to have their staff attend the course so we can all be ambassadors for our city.
We have just released the latest Neat Places guide for Hamilton, in partnership with Hamilton Waikato Tourism and Hamilton City Council, which has been a great promotional tool for highlighting our ‘Neat Places’ offerings around the city.
We will also continue with our core business to represent the central city business voice on issues and projects of strategic importance to the central city and to continue to promote the CBD as an active, innovative, vibrant place that offers exceptional businesses and experiences!
NZB: What do you like most about your job, and the whole task of putting on the CBD Awards?
VANESSA: It will sound cliché, but what I enjoy most about my role is the variety, the engagement and the awesome range of businesses on offer in the centre of Hamilton.
I am Hamilton born and breed, however I have spent much of my adult life overseas and I am constantly blown away by the high calibre of businesses here and what they are achieving at local, national and international level.
Putting on the CBD Celebration Awards provides the opportunity for local businesses to tell their story and hold their story up to be celebrated. And they really should! The awards night is our opportunity to thank and recognise business success and create a night to remember!
Photo below: Vanessa Williams.