New Regent Street is located in the Christchurch Central City. It is oriented in a north-south direction and placed between Armagh Street at its north end, and Gloucester Street on its south side. Cathedral Square, the centre of Christchurch, is located one block over to the south-west. What is now New Regent Street was originally known as "The Circus paddock", as visiting circuses would make use of the land. From 1888, the land was occupied by a building called the Colosseum. The Colosseum was initially an ice skating rink, then used for a boot factory, became a taxi rank for some time and in 1908, it was Christchurch's first movie theatre. The Colosseum was demolished in January 1931.
In 1929, businessman and chairman of The Press, George Gould, proposed a variety of measures to relieve traffic congestion in Colombo Street and Cathedral Square, including a new bridge over the Avon River connecting Oxford Terrace with Durham Street south, and a new diagonal street from the Armagh Street / Manchester Street intersection to Gloucester Street near its intersection with Colombo Street. The latter proposal would have required the demolition of the Colosseum. Gould suggested this diagonal street be called Little High Street, in reference to the diagonal High Street further south in the central city. Only two weeks after Gould's proposal, a group of businessman led by Arthur Francis Stacey put a proposal for a new street with a Spanish theme to Christchurch City Council's town planning committee. The group had secured options on the Colosseum and on those two properties that separated the Colosseum from access onto Armagh Street. The plans had been drawn by Francis Willis, who had previously been employed by Christchurch City Council as their architect, but who had since 1924 been self-employed. Stacey and his business partners had formed a company called Regent Street Limited in 1929; other company directors were David Manson, Alexander Hamilton Forbes, and John Joseph Dougall. By February 1930, the project had been approved in principle by Christchurch City Council. The concept of a number of small shops all built as a comprehensive development was advanced for its time, and can be regarded as the forerunner of modern shopping malls.
A building permit for the construction of the buildings was imminent, but had not been issued by January 1931, while the demolition of the Colosseum was carried out. The contract for the construction of the 40 buildings and the roadway was let to the Boyle Brothers for NZ£32,000. The builder did not perform and the contract was retendered for approximately NZ£32,000, with P. Graham and Son, Limited, as the successful party. The overall cost of the project was NZ£90,000. The street was built at a width of 40 feet (12 m), and the north-south length of Christchurch Central City blocks is 330 feet (100 m). The sculptor William Trethewey carried out some of the interior decorations.
The company asked for the street to be named Regent Street, but the Christchurch City Council declined the request on the grounds that a street of that name already existed in Sydenham, and suggested New Regent Street instead. Regent Street in Sydenham was renamed Roxburgh Street in 1948. New Regent Street is named for London's Regent Street, itself that city's first planned street, and built between 1814 and 1825.
The street was finished in late March 1932. One of its features was a lighting system consisting of 400 lamps, and when this was first switch on for a trial on 24 March, hundreds of citizens went for a walk down the 100 metres (330 ft) long street. To make use of the lighting, the formal opening was held on the evening of 1 April 1932. The proceedings were chaired by Dan Sullivan, the Mayor of Christchurch, who also gave the first speech. Other speakers were David Manson (chairman of Regent Street Ltd), city councillor A. H. Andrews (chairman of the town planning committee), and Stacey. Mrs. Manson then cut the ribbon. During the opening speech of the mayor, the crowd was entertained by a person from the crowd warning of a man with a sword, reference to the de Groot incident that happened at the Sydney Harbour Bridge two weeks earlier where a protester cut the ribbon prior to the official ceremony.