Bonn According to the retail association and City-Marketing, visitor frequency in the city centre has not yet reached the pre-Corona level. Rents have dropped significantly. Increased littering and poor accessibility are deterring customers.
Bonn's retail trade is taking a worried look at the current situation in the city centre: according to a survey of its members by the Bonn/Rhein-Sieg/Euskirchen retail association, visitor frequency has by no means reached the level of pre-Corona times. According to Andrea Forst-Raasch and Jannis Vassiliou from the association's board, the frequency is still 30 percent lower on some days. Accordingly, the turnover of the stores decreased. At the same time, the association is aware of about 30 vacancies. "Real estate agents reflect to us that rents in the city centre have dropped by an average of 20 percent for new contracts compared to the previous price," Vassiliou told the GA.
The association chairman can also take positives from the latter development. After all, he said, rents have risen sharply in recent years. For owner-operated store operators in particular, they have been difficult to afford. "But we need the owner-operated stores in the city centre because they promise an interesting branch mix. More chains won't get us anywhere," Vassiliou said.
Better condition should help
In order to drive the city's "revitalisation," Forst-Raasch believes it is imperative that the city centre be put in better condition than it currently is. "The customers who come back to us after a long time due to the pandemic find that Bonn has changed. It has become dirtier." Especially on squares such as Kaiserplatz or Hofgartenwiese, for example, littering has increased. The impression of the association: The municipal waste management company Bonnorange does not do its job properly and is often too late, when the stores are already open.
As reported, according to Bonnorange, the volume of waste has increased in the pandemic. As spokesman Jérôme Lefèvre points out, it was mainly takeaway packaging in restaurants and snack bars that had been added. More waste refuse cans had been set up. But the refuse workers needed longer than before for cleaning up and emptying. In addition, he said, the company had switched from four-person teams to two-person teams due to Corona to reduce the risk of infection. "We now want to introduce a 2G rule on a voluntary basis and increase the teams again with recovered or vaccinated people," Lefèvre said. The suggestion also came from the workforce, he said. If the trend toward higher waste volumes continues, Bonnorange will also increase staff, he said.
Retail associations view developments with concern
From the point of view of the retail association, however, time is pressing: "Customers who don't feel comfortable and don't come back are difficult to win back," Forst-Raasch explains. And the competition with surrounding cities such as Siegburg and Cologne is fierce.
The City-Marketing association, which brings together downtown merchants and restaurateurs, also sees worrying undesirable developments. Philipp Blömer from the board of directors sees, in addition to the lack of cleanliness and an increase in vacancies, a serious problem in an "ideologically influenced traffic policy": "Trade functions according to ultimately simple mechanisms, customers want to get to the city centre easily, comfortably and without traffic jams, even by car. I can't see that the council coalition recognises these dynamics." Constant traffic trials, he said, kept potential customers who shopped online more during the pandemic from returning to retail centres.
Reference to future initiative of the state of NRW
In its coalition agreement, the council coalition of the Greens, SPD, Left Party and Volt has committed itself to further economic growth and wants to strive for an industry mix of services, crafts and innovative start-ups that are to be particularly promoted. At the same time, however, one of their most important items on the agenda is to initiate a traffic turnaround with more space for local traffic, cyclists and pedestrians. It is believed that switching to alternatives to the car will ultimately lead to more attractive city centres.
From the point of view of the retail association, the city administration could do much more to revitalise the city centre quickly. In this context, Vassiliou points to the state initiative "Zukunft .Innenstadt. North Rhine-Westphalia". The state government is providing 100 million euros for a state-owned immediate programme to strengthen the centres.
Last year, Bonn received three times 99,000 euros for the centre management of Bad Godesberg, Beuel and Hardtberg. This year, the association chairman said, the city had not applied for any funding. The city could use this money to rent stores itself, sublet them to companies on more favourable terms and recoup the difference via the subsidy. The association sees this as an opportunity for the city to exert its own influence on the branch mix.
The administration is of a different opinion: "For a functioning real estate market, this instrument would be, in the view of the administration, a clear market intervention and also an intervention in the freedom of trade," said Markus Schmitz from the press office. Bonn has overall "a strongly below-average vacancy rate in the single-digit percentage range. "The consensus opinion - polled during a NRW-wide inner city conference - is that (urgent) action is needed from a vacancy period of two years and a vacancy rate of around 30 percent," Schmitz said.
REVITALISED CITY CENTRES - City wants to promote living in the city centre
German cities appear to have weathered the pandemic and associated lockdowns to varying degrees. According to counts by the company Hystreet at prominent locations in downtown Düsseldorf, nearly as many people were walking there as in the period before Corona, he said.
According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung at the turn of the year, store rents in downtown Munich fell by eleven percent. In Hamburg, according to an industry service, the average was 40 percent in July of this year. Among others, it was the German Retail Association that called for massive financial support from the German government last year to counter the decline of city centres with urban development upgrades and creative ideas.
In view of the increasing online trade, the Bonn city administration is seeking dialogue with trade associations, the City Marketing association and property owners "in order to identify and, if necessary, address optimisation potential." The "Stay strong - buy local" campaign, a digital voucher system and the introduction of centre management in three city districts are currently underway. Markus Schmitz from the press office said the administration wants to promote more living in the city centre. An approach that the retail association also supports, in order to get more life into the city centres, especially in the evenings. In addition, Schmitz said, architecture, the design of public space, cleanliness and events, but also recreational areas, are important approaches for a more lively city centre.
Original text: Philipp Königs - Translation: Mareike Graepel