Strip club boss eyes iconic building
An Auckland sex industry kingpin is looking at converting a former bank on Hamilton's main street into a gentleman's club.
Whitehouse owner Brian Le Gros has joined forces with Hamilton strip club owner Tony Garroway in an attempt to convert the former Bank of New Zealand building on Victoria St into a carbon copy of Le Gros' Queen St business.
The building is currently trading as a bar called The Bank Bar and Brasserie.
But the pair already have opponents who say the establishment will degrade women and the family friendly area.
The building was intended to make a confident statement about the city's economic future when it opened in 1878.
BNZ stopped using the category one listed historic building in 1986.
When refurbished as a bar and restaurant in 1994, the venue was a flagship for the revival of Victoria St's struggling south end.
However, The White House proposal would add an increasingly red light being cast in Hamilton's premier entertainment district where two striptease venues now operate.
"We just want to go more upmarket," Garroway said.
"We are looking at buying The Bank off John Lawrenson, Brian le Gros and myself. We want to put a carbon copy of The White House in Hamilton and we think it's the most suitable building,"
He has recently sold the building that houses his London St strip club, Firecats, and has also looked at buying the former Cubbyhole venue, also on Victoria St.
"'The Bank is really the only one. I think it's got to be there, to be honest," Garroway said.
"Brian is very keen on it and while it's not 100 per cent, we'll know soon which way we want to go. It's an historic building and we need to do our homework. We don't want to change it in any way structurally, we want to do it right from the word go."
Voice Waikato, a lobby group formed in the early 2000s to oppose brothels in suburbs, is firmly opposed to the idea.
Spokeswoman Robyn Jackson hopes Hamilton residents will show their maturity by staying away.
They turn women into "sex objects instead of real people" and "encourage unhealthy sexual behaviour".
She said the concern is that it would degrade a family friendly area that a lot of ratepayers' money has been spent on improving.
Le Gros and Garroway are looking to establish similarly upmarket clubs in Wellington and Christchurch and concede it has been a challenge finding good sites. The Lawrenson Group chief executive John Lawrenson confirmed "a couple of conversations" with Garroway about selling The Bank bar business.
"When I took it over it was doing pretty poorly... and it's now one of the most popular bars in town again, that would have to be reflected in any price. " said Lawrenson.
The building was part of a larger body corporate and ultimately a decision would rest with owner Myles Prestidge, one of the original developers.
"With the following that the bar has now got, I certainly wouldn't be asking what we paid for it. It would cost them a fair bit more than that," he said.
Prestidge said he considered the building a "long term hold" and would require "a little bit of thought" before he would be prepared to comment.