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New look, name for Kaiti Mall

Even before he bought Kaiti Mall from former owners Meng and Richard Foon, Fortitude Property principal Georg Winkler saw potential in the shopping complex and community hub. He talks to Mark Peters about his vision to bring out the best of the mall that surprisingly was really never a mall at all . . .

Kaiti Mall’s new sushi restaurant had a queue of lunchtime patrons when The Gisborne Herald met with the mall’s new co-owner Georg Winkler for this interview.

Mr Winkler bought the 52-year-old shopping complex from former owner, and recently retired mayor, Meng Foon and his brother at about this time last year. The Foons had owned the community hub for 30 years. Sited on about two hectares of land, Kaiti Mall is the biggest shopping centre in Gisborne and is also a community centre. This feature is an intrinsic part of the mall’s character that Mr Winkler is determined to not only maintain but enhance.

The spacious, gleaming sushi restaurant that deals in healthy options has replaced the beleaguered sports-betting venue and bar that Ka Pai Kaiti and many others lobbied to have closed down.

“This used to be a TAB when we bought the mall,” says Mr Winkler.

“Their licence wasn’t renewed and a lot of people wanted to get rid of the gambling.”

The loss of a tenant had been a financial loss to the mall’s new owners — but there had been a lot of loitering and drunk people in the vicinity, says Mr Winkler. In a 2017 Herald webpoll at least one person said Kaiti Mall was not a pleasant place to be.

“You get in and out as quickly as possible – can be very intimidating at times.”

Another had wanted Kaiti Mall to be a dry zone: “We have an art studio there and who wants to walk outside your work space and see drunk people drinking at midday? And some evenings seeing really drunk people outside lurking. Make it school-friendly for our whanau.”

Stigma to be overcome

Kaiti Mall has stigma that has to be worked with, says Mr Winkler. That involves more than just a paint job but he has noticed a great improvement.

“There used to be litter everywhere. Since it has been clean, fewer people are chucking rubbish on the ground. People love the mall now. You come here in the mornings and it’s often quite packed. We’re catering for people’s various needs.”

It is not only customers and visitors Mr Winkler has to cater for. The mall has about 20 tenants and many have been there for several decades.

“We’re talking with them so they understand where we’re coming from. They see shops like this — the sushi restaurant — and want to lift their own shop’s game. We want to bring in more people to make the businesses better.

“We’ve had a few people interested in another shop. That’s costing us while its unoccupied. We could just lease it and get the money, but we don’t want to do that. We’re not accepting just any tenant. We’re aiming for a professionally-run track record in business.”

Meanwhile, other shops along the same strip have been refurbished or are soon to be refurbished. Shopfront signage is getting an upgrade too. The consistency in signage design will replace the mish-mash of signs and advertising boards. When completed, the signage will be of a uniform size and will make a continuous band for easy identification of each shop, service or outlet, “rather than bits and pieces”.

“Signage makes a big difference,” says Mr Winkler. “Paint colours have been carefully selected so it’s not too blingy. We’ve been working with a local branding expert who came up with amazing new signs for Kaiti Mall. We worked on blending in elements of Maori art such as patikitiki, flounder, patterns. They look like fish swimming along. The design represents the gathering of food and people coming together. This really is a gathering place, a hub. We want to enhance that.”

Mr Winkler and the branding expert’s concept is to have the mall’s shops present an attractive frontage.

Out with the old

The old “in” and “out” signs at the entrance/exits will be replaced with pou that take the form of smart, brown pillars patterned with patikitiki and clear, white lettering that reads Kaiti Hub, and lists the shops and services available. Because Kaiti Mall, or Kaiti Hub, is at the start of the Ngati Porou rohe visitors will be welcomed by signs that read, in dialect te reo Maori, Haramai.

The makeover is part of a grand design that aims at consistency in the mall brand while maintaining, or even enhancing, Kaiti Mall’s long-standing informal function as a social hub.

Aim to attract more people“We’re going to reinstate new seating to help invigorate the courtyard. Our objective is to bring more people into the mall,” says Mr Winkler.

“We want to bring the courtyard area up to being a vibrant meeting place, not just a bland concrete apron.”

Outdoor seating at food outlets over summer could be part of that vibrancy.

“The idea is to raise expectations. We want people to expect nice shops.

“At the same time, our intention is not to turn into a Bayfair (the main shopping mall in Mount Maunganui).”

With 12,500 people in the area, Kaiti Mall is the community centre and CBD of inner and outer Kaiti, Tamarau and Wainui, says Mr Winkler. The population the complex is at the centre of is almost three times the size of Wairoa’s.

“People treat this as their place. It really is a community hub. Ka Pai Kaiti refer to the mall as the Kaiti hub.”

In fact, Kaiti Hub is to be the new name for the mall that, strictly speaking, isn’t a mall at all — even though that was the original intention. In the mid-1960s the concept for the complex was to be a shopping mall with four entrances and a central courtyard, says Mr Winkler.

Gisborne Photo News referred to the centre as the Kaiti Shopping Mall when it was ceremoniously opened on December 12, 1967.

“A large crowd of shoppers gathered for the event where the speakers were the Sheepfarmers’ general manager Frank Martin and Mayor Harry Barker who officially declared the centre open.”

Because Robert Muldoon was finance minister at the time, and put a cap on development resources, the shopping mall couldn’t go ahead, explains Mr Winkler.

Built as a strip, not mall

The mall was built as a strip instead. An alleyway that used to run between two Kaiti Mall shops is all that was left of the original design’s four entrances.

“It’s not a mall,” says Mr Winkler.

“It’s a community hub. A mall has shopping centre connotations. A hub brings in a community.

“Imagine a hub with spokes that radiate from it. The spokes are different parts of the community.”

As a hub, the shopping centre is visited not only by Kaiti residents but people from Wainui, Coasties and farmers. The shopping centre offers eateries, a health centre, pharmacy, post office and WINZ office for superannuitants. Kaiti Mall’s role as community hub includes support organisations Ka Pai Kaiti, Aotearoa Social Enterprise Trust, and health centre Ngati Porou Hauora – Puhi Kaiti Medical Centre.

“We have multiple spokes for people,” says Mr Winkler.

“The wheels fell off Kaiti Mall with a few things but now we’re pulling it all together again. We want people from town to come in. This is a new era, really.”

Mr Winkler grew up in Wairoa and after stints in other parts of New Zealand, lived in Auckland from where he worked around the country as a geotechnical engineer. He would come to Gisborne for work and fell in love with the place.

“It was always sunny here. There is surf and so much time here. In Auckland you can spend three to four hours stuck in traffic.”

Mr Winkler moved to Gisborne and in 2004 established consulting engineering firm LDE which was initially run out of a small house in outer Kaiti. LDE rapidly grew into a countrywide company and now has more than 50 employees.

Mr Winkler has invested in property since the mid 1990s and in 2002 established Fortitude Property. The business is a family affair. Mr Winkler’s wife Lisa provides directorship; his daughter is property manager for residential properties while son-in-law Blair is project manager.

As principal of Fortitude Property, which deals in commercial and residential property, Mr Winkler saw potential in Kaiti Mall.

“I really like shopping centres,” he says.

“I like to see the potential in things and make them happen. There is huge potential for businesses here.”


A NEW ERA: Fortitude Property principal George Winkler saw potential in Kaiti Mall when he bought it last year. The upgrade has already begun, with the character of the shopping centre as community hub also in the process of enhancement. Mr Winkler is pictured here outside the mall. Picture by Liam Clayton
Mr Winkler is pictured inside the new sushi restaurant in the mall. Picture by Liam Clayton