Business as usual for Tauranga bars

Miss Gee's Bar and Eatery owner Ash Gee is relieved the 3am closing time will remain. Photo: Supplied.

The decision to keep Tauranga city centre bars’ closing time at 3am is being described as a “win for hospitality".  

Tauranga City Council voted to leave the closing times as they are at the Strategy, Finance and Risk Committee meeting today.

Miss Gee's Bar and Eatery owner Ash Gee told Local Democracy Reporting they are trying to rejuvenate the Tauranga CBD and encourage a vibrant night life, so the move was a “win for hospitality”.

As part of the Local Alcohol Policy Tauranga City Council was proposing to change the closing time for CBD bars to 2am.

This was opposed by bars and restaurants but was the favoured option for the Western Bay of Plenty police and recommended by council staff.

At the meeting, commission chair Anne Tolley said she was “not convinced” the closing time was a problem.

“What we heard from the hospitality sector was that they are taking inside the bars very genuinely and putting a lot of effort into managing people inside their bars, including the expense of a great many security staff and managing that really well,” says Tolley.

Commissioner Stephen Selwood says he didn’t see a “compelling case for much change at all or a compelling case for a Local Alcohol Policy in the first place”.

He says if there was clear evidence that the 3am closing time was an issue then he would consider change but he says there wasn’t clear evidence.

Commissioner Stephen Selwood. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.

“If anything, from submissions there was a sort of sentiment that having managed control in on licence was actually a benefit rather than a disbenefit and the risk of course is you pour them out onto the streets where they’re not under that influence,” says Selwood.

Committee member Rohario Murray agrees there is a lack of evidence to show an earlier closing time reduces harm.

She says they need to look at what they were doing to reduce harm out on the streets if that was where the issue was and suggests increased police presence and more Māori wardens.   

“Let’s try make the streets a safer place than actually trying to close down bars,” says Murray.

Miss Gee’s owner Ash Gee says she employs one of the biggest security teams for a bar in the city and will have five or six guards working on a Saturday night, which is their busiest night.

She says the investment shows because they have had a “good run” of not having any incidents.

“We do as much as we can to increase the safety for our guests, but we also monitor what goes on around town and feed that back to police,” says Gee.

The bar owner says if the closing time had been brought forward to 2am it would have impacted her business “pretty extensively”.

City centre bars see an influx of people coming from Mount Maunganui bars and restaurants that close at 1am and an earlier closing time would have cut that trade out, says Gee.

“It would've impacted a lot of the bars and that would trickle backwards into people being less likely to go to the CBD for dinner and after dinner drinks, because the vibe would just basically evaporate.

“A lot of people come out for dinner and drinks and things like that and then stay around, so that [2am closing] would've just killed all of that.”

Knowing her bar can remain open until 3am is a relief for Gee because they have events planned until December.

Downtown Tauranga chairman Brian Berry told Local Democracy Reporting the mainstreet organisation advocated for the closing time to remain the same and he’s pleased it hasn’t been changed.

“We felt that the bars themselves were doing a good job of how they were managing their patrons,” says Berry.

He says there needed to be more of a police presence in the central CBD during key hours as an “actual deterrent” if they had the resources, to help mitigate issues if they arose.

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