Street evolution: upper-middle Willis St
It's hard to label the section of Willis St between Ghuznee and Vivian streets: "upper Willis" usually refers to the sections between Vivian St and the Aro Valley, and central Willis St probably extends from Manners to Ghuznee. This block seems somewhat grey and forgotten, and yet it's actually one of the most densely populated parts of Wellington, with approximately 560 residents. Almost all of those are students or hotel guests, but apart from the B4 bar at McKenzies and the nightly streams of binge-drinking high-spirited youngsters staggering between the hostels and Bar Bodega, there's not much physical manifestation of that. Until now.
DTR has recently moved here from Dixon St, catering for the needs of an itinerant population. Near Vivian St, the empty ground floor area that was once a commercial kitchen supplies wholesaler is being converted into an Asian supermarket, which makes sense given that the local population is about 20% Asian. Together, they'll bring a bit more street-level activity to the block, as well as reflecting the nature of the population.
The old Sharp showroom has been split into three retail spaces, which are still on the market, but it shows that the developer has some confidence in the retail potential of the location. I've seen the building in commercial real estate ads, sporting a couple of extra floors that could be either rather funky or desperately naff: it's hard to tell from the rendering. While it was a shame to lose the artist's studio and gallery that used to be on the first floor, the addition of some more permanent residents might be a positive change for the block.
Making up for the loss of the old gallery, the Mark Hutchins Gallery has just moved in to a space at the rear of this building. It's carved out a huge glass window in the side of the building, and it's going some way towards turning an anonymous service lane into quite a pleasant little space. Across the lane, Belle Vie have also moved in, in this case from Cuba St.
So, there's quite a bit of retail activity going on here now, perhaps reflecting a drift away from the Golden Mile driven by increasing rents. If anything gets built on the current Sunday market site at the Vivian St end, then the transformations could be huge. Perhaps it's time for the physical design of the street to reflect the new vitality and variety: some small street trees and benches on the wide eastern pavement, as in the block north of Ghuznee, could be all it takes to soften the somewhat drab architecture and turn a busy thoroughfare into a place to actually stop and spend some time.