Restaurants, bars race to reopen

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 05/11/2012
Cafe Valentino owner Michael Turner says the CBD is the ‘‘natural meeting place’’. The restaurant reopened in St Asaph St on Wednesday.
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

BACK IN BUSINESS: Cafe Valentino owner Michael Turner says the CBD is the ‘‘natural meeting place’’. The restaurant reopened in St Asaph St on Wednesday.

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The race is on for Christchurch's restaurants and bars to return to the central city in time for the busy summer season.

Christchurch City Council's district licensing authority (DLA) has been inundated with applications for new liquor licences, with the latest count on Wednesday showing 53 on the books.

Fourteen of these were for central city premises and 28 were opening (or reopening) for the first time since the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

One of these was Cafe Valentino, which reopened in St Asaph St on Wednesday in a former bike shop.

Its former premises on Colombo St, where it was for 20 years, were destroyed in the February quake.

Owner Michael Turner said it was "tentatively exciting" to be open and starting "totally again".

Training new staff and getting insurance and consents for the nearly 100-year old building was, at times, "overwhelming".

"Cafe Valentino belongs in the central business area. It's a natural meeting place, you meet in town. I'm just hoping as the rebuild builds, that people come back.

"It's a beaut building. It was strengthened in 2007 and that saved it. We feel we've done the building justice."

Council inspections and enforcement manager Gary Lennan said normal numbers for new liquor licence applications fluctuated between 20 and 30 at this time of year.

"Considering what was lost, we expected a surge in applications.

"I anticipate this trend to continue in the short term as the centre of town redevelops."

Twenty-five of the 53 applications were for premises which had been operating under transferred liquor licences and had decided to remain permanently in their new location.

Eight applications were on "hold", meaning they could not be processed due to location or the state of their building.

A further 42 files remained "active", where applications were lodged pre-earthquake, but the venues could not be occupied yet as they were within the CBD cordon, he said.

Peter Morrison, Canterbury president of Hospitality New Zealand, said the surge in applications was "a good sign for the industry", as it meant things were returning to normal.

The pre-Christmas season traditionally saw a rush of bars and restaurants opening and the CBD was becoming a more desirable location thanks to the new Government blueprint.

"They're excited about the new plan, there's going to be so much more potential."

Latest Statistics New Zealand figures show the number of Christchurch cafes and restaurants dropped nearly 20 per cent in the year after the February 2011 quake, with about 550 remaining as of February this year.

Morrison said anyone who could reopen safely could expect a good summer season.

Business owners had found obtaining liquor licenses had gone smoothly, but building and resource consents had been slow.Morrison said in Canterbury overall, nothing was booming.

"Like most retail it's very stagnant."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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