by John Subritzky
Avondale’s first tower crane stands sentry over Mainstreet as an indisputable sign of change.
Indeed, there is a massive wave of investment coming that is still largely invisible as you walk through town, but change is now unstoppable and is roaring in like a freight train. Millions of dollars of public and private money will kick the transformation of Avondale into a higher gear. These projects will deliver a new library and community centre, new retail spaces, and apartments on Mainstreet. There will be an entire new community of hundreds of apartment dwellers in the centre of town.
Walking through town today, these changes are still mainly just hinted at. Unlike many other centres, shop vacancy rates are low although it does have four two-dollar shops filling the gaps. It is easy to look at these shops and not see the future.
Avondale is also a creative centre. It is astounding how many arts and media people call this home. There is a pulsating vibrancy that has risen up and broken through the surface. Crescendo, a music based social organisation for youth, gave their seal of approval with their move to the centre of town. A leader in showcasing the creative energy is Dayne Smith who pioneered I Love Avondale. Dayne worked through many social initiatives since 2014 and he recently took on a community development role with Kāinga Ora.
In 2017, Dayne recognised that Avondale needed a change in leadership and that the Avondale Business Association (ABA) was the major player that set the tone of the town. Along with others, he encouraged Marcus Amosa to stand for election as Chair of the ABA. It seemed like a big win when Marcus was elected at the business association AGM three years ago over incumbent Duncan McDonald, but it was a hollow victory; Marcus had no allies on the ABA board.
Nobody could have anticipated the year-long stalemate that ensued. Marcus had no former board experience and he struggled to chair a board where everyone was against him. The fine print of the ABA rules was examined and it was claimed that Marcus was ineligible because he was not a business or property owner in the Business Improvement District (BID) area. Marcus was trespassed from the ABA office (located inside Duncan’s shop). Handover of the ABA records was refused. Eventually Auckland Council froze the ABA funding from BID special rates while the ABA financial records were audited due to suspected irregularities.
An important insight is that the election of Marcus as Chair of ABA was part of a sea change of leadership in the Whau. Marcus’s brother, Fasitua Amosa, was later elected to the Whau Local Board (WLB). Also challenging the status quo was Tracy Mulholland, first at the WLB and then by defeating Ross Clow as Councillor. A group of people had become friends as they worked together over the decades as local board members, councillors, business association representatives and elected members to the Trusts. Duncan McDonald was part of this group that included Paul and Kathy Davies, Derek Battersby, Catherine Farmer, and Ross Clow. The transition of various powers from this group to a new generation is now well underway.
Under Duncan’s leadership, the ABA oversaw the installation of the yellow brick pavements, uniform green signage for shops, under-shop awning lighting, and rubbish and graffiti removal. The most celebrated achievement was installation of Dale the spider in the town centre. On the downside, they opposed activation of the old 3 guys site for community use as a youth zone/artpark and the new pavers became known as the “slippery bricks” after multiple people suffered falls when the bricks were wet. The green signage has aged and now it has mostly been removed.
During his year in the ABA wilderness, Marcus kept focused on his future strategy. His time in the army with NZDF has trained him to be 100% mission focussed to achieve objectives. The strategic overview is like looking down from the air. He had to deal with the frustration of having 12 months delay to his tactical response with the ABA on the ground, where you need to move quickly. As a combat veteran of Afghanistan, Marcus knows that strategy and tactics determine outcomes. The second AGM of the ABA where Marcus stood again was completely different. He was once again elected Chair, but this time he was backed by a full ticket of allied board members.
The new team hit the ground running but there was a huge amount to do behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for change. Although the existing bar was set low, it takes an enormous amount of energy to create enough momentum for visible change. The board members were dedicated, skilful and keen but there was a huge backlog of governance issues to navigate. It took time for Council to complete its audit and release the BID funds that had been frozen.
The new ABA board got governance consultancy from Claire Siddens (Auckland Council) and advisors Grant Hewison and Steve McDowell. They were starting with a clean slate to set up systems, policy, and implementation. Subcommittees tackled specific tasks. There was full attendance at board meetings as the new team showed a strong desire to work together effectively.
Cynthia Crosse joined the team as part time manager. Marcus, Cynthia, and Treasurer Pirie Brown worked so diligently that Auckland Council now holds ABA up as a model for a culture of “best practice” governance. They were applauded by Council for their reporting and held up as an example of excellence to the 49 other Auckland BIDs.
Although the previous administration had made a change to the constitution to stipulate that the chair be offered a $5,000 annual allowance for the chair, Marcus believes that it is important that he sends a strong message that he is a volunteer like everyone else and does not accept the allowance.
The ABA business plan has these key performance indicators:
The granular details under each of these objectives is impressive. Even more so is the progress that has been achieved in a short timeframe on so many fronts.
A simple thing like an accurate database of BID business and property owners had to be built. This has enabled regular communication with members, proven especially important as they navigated the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Promotion of local business is the core function of any BID. The ABA has done this with imagination and style. One simple way to showcase businesses online and in social media has been to employ a local, world-renowned photographer to get images of owners and staff in front of their shops. This has been one type of content used on the ABA website, social channels and in the new Mainstreet magazine. Cynthia has also helped members to set up their own social media accounts to give them a presence online.
At short notice the ABA organised the first Avondale Business Awards to celebrate each other amongst the dark days of Covid. Despite having a short runway to organise the Awards, it was a success. Voting for the people’s choice awards included many thoughtful comments about aspects of businesses that people appreciated.
The ABA is working with charities as well as business owners with the goal of building a tight, cohesive community that becomes an attractive place to live and to do business. They recognise that it will take a wholistic community perspective to achieve that. The I Love Avondale organisation, Haven Foundation, churches, clubs, and societies are valued by the ABA for their role in community building.
The association even commissioned a promotional video for Avondale to attract new businesses. This has created interest and the first new business, Cheddar, is set to open.
Strategic partners include developers, Eke Panuku, Whau Local Board, Councillor Tracy Mulholland, Auckland Transport and Kāinga Ora. The ABA works to maintain close relationships with all these important partners, many of whom are spending millions of dollars on the regeneration of Avondale. The ABA has also combined its voice with the other three BIDs in the Whau, for joint lobbying of government.
Marcus sums it all up with, “The Avondale Business Association is slowly morphing the way we portray our town centre, and the way others perceive it, to keep pace with the external changes facing us. We are proud of our collective membership, a business community that serves its neighbourhood well, and we will continue to do our best to serve you.”
There is a new sheriff in town. Marcus says his personal foundation that has equipped him for the role is his faith and his military career. He owes a lot to his family, especially his parents Ps Asora and Henga Amosa, as well as his wife Jamie.