Kirby Lane owner Galen King is putting the call out to people keen on helping create a community space in the heart of Nelson. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Kirby Lane goes it alone

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The local developer behind a project to create a community space in the heart of Nelson is going it alone after red tape and lack lustre support from council inspired him that Kirby Lane has to be done by the people, for the people.

Galen King, who owns the Bridge St Collective, first proposed Kirby Lane in 2016 and hoped it would soon become a new laneway precinct for the city. It initially was to be a mall made out of shipping containers – complete with boutique shops, cafés, eateries, coworking space, event spaces, offices and even a children’s playground.

However, after the development costs and requirements came in it would have been a $1.5 million project. “I couldn’t afford that,” Galen says. “The economics just didn’t add up.”

So he shelved that and, via the Long Term Plan, implored the Nelson City Council to help pave the way for a scaled-down project. Council agreed to help – $2000 a year for a decade.

“But, in return, the space would effectively become public land where they would have a say on the number of days we were allowed to be open,” Galen says. “We had to clean rubbish 10 metres outside our boundary, we had to have toilets and security … all for a really nominal amount of money.”

Galen says the council investment wouldn’t have covered the cost of a playground, let alone any of the other requirements.

“I can’t afford to put a playground in now, I’m so burned out by the constant changes in requirements and health and safety.”

However, he says the good news is that the playground actually would have taken up a lot of space.

“It wouldn’t have been good enough, it would have been like the blue lines on Bridge St. The master plan for the street was actually amazing but the budget was cut back so much that all council could afford was blue lines. I don’t want this to be like that.”

So, he is putting his faith in people power.

“We want to create a community space that is going to be about bringing people together.”

He is putting the call out to people to get involved – especially food cart owners to try and create a vibrant space where anyone is allowed to hang out, regardless of if they are buying food there.

Already they have a pizza oven, which local company More Pork have on site. Galen says it’s an opportunity for someone to come in and run it as a business.

“We have the luxury of not having to follow rules on when we open and close.”

He is hopeful the Farmers Market could move to Kirby Lane from its present location along the Maitai, where it is known to be struggling to attract punters.

“The purpose is to create a dynamic space in town to draw people in so they start filling up empty shops.”

Galen, who is now based in New York, says he realises the importance of this more than ever.

“For the vibrancy of any town or city you need people living, playing and working in the city at all times. New York feels safer and more harmonious at all times of the day than Nelson does, because if you walk at 2am there are still people out, going to restaurants, going to work. In Nelson at 5.01pm there is nobody out.”

He says, as a result, shops struggle because everyone one goes straight home, restaurants aren’t full. “It’s to draw people in. That’s the whole reason I created a co working space – so you don’t go insane doing your thing on your own.”

Anyone who is interested in Galen’s vision for Kirby Lane, especially food vendors, can contact studio@bridgestreet.nz