Why bother, say investors

Vagrancy threatens hospitality future

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
 Steven Penrose
FAIRFAX NZ

Look at the state of it: Hamilton City Oaks general manager Steven Penrose says brothels, strip clubs and vagrants are taking over the south end of Victoria St.

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Anti-social vagrants are driving business away from Hamilton's premier hospitality precinct and threatening to scuttle a multimillion-dollar development.

The problem has eclipsed the lack of parking as the central business district's top issue for at least one retailer.

And while private shopping precincts such as The Base and Chartwell can evict who they please, the public hold the power at the south end of Victoria St.

The Hamilton Central Business Association has started the ball rolling and will meet with city council officials within the fortnight to discuss a bylaw proposal.

The problem has deteriorated to the point that the VR Group is reconsidering investing up to $15m to build a seven-storey luxury apartment building and conference centre in the block on the corner of Victoria and Collingwood streets.

"I've said to the council, we're seriously considering pulling the pin and not doing our development at all," Hamilton City Oaks general manager Steven Penrose said yesterday.

"How can we - would you want to buy one when you come downstairs and you can't even walk outside? I mean look at the state of it. There are brothels and strip clubs multiplying outside our door."

Public defecation, scavenging, used syringes and damage to property are all on his list of gripes.

During a recent incident he said a guest was verbally abused after a request for money was turned down.

The problem mainly appears to be at the public park where the Riff Raff statue stands, which has become a popular hangout for the city's idle.

Business owners have described a group of up to 20 people that congregate in the area on a daily basis who drink alcohol and engage in behaviour that intimidates members of the public.

Restaurant owner Loni Montoya is at her wits' end.

Customers regularly complain about the group's behaviour and she believes people are staying away because of it.

And because it is a public place the police have no power unless someone is breaking the law.

She said the problem started to deteriorate about six months ago when a new group appeared on the streets.

It's unclear whether the members are sleeping rough or simply unemployed.

"It's become an interruption of business," she said.

"They come and accost our customers . . . begging for food. When customers have risen to leave they've eaten the food left behind on the table."

A few doors down at Victoria St institution Trek 'n' Travel, owner Colin Hancock has noticed a similar pattern.

It is interrupting his business too, he said.

"I send people for a walk to try out boots down there and the number of ladies that come back and say, look Colin I don't want to go down there again.

"They might not do anything but they're quite intimidating for some people."

He said the Riff Raff park is ideal for the vagrants because they can nip down toward the river and avoid police scrutiny if they want to engage in illegal activity.

They have even started using the public toilet roof to store their belongings.

Mr Hancock wants to see them moved on and an anti-loitering bylaw could be the way to go, he said.

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Across the road at Snapshot, owner Graham Boswell said the parking issue has been overridden by people begging for money and the fact that people don't feel safe any more.

"It's stopping people coming to town because they feel threatened. It's not a good look for the city."

Estimates suggest Hamilton has about 30 regular rough sleepers, but at least 400 without secure permanent housing.

The Auckland Council has an ambitious aim to end rough sleeping in the region by 2020.

The plan sees all relevant agencies involved with homelessness working together for a common goal.

It came after Auckland City Council's Homeless Action Plan was adopted by Auckland Council, leading to the creation of the New Beginnings Court in October 2010.

The court has made progress towards providing solutions for homeless people who have attended, including engaging health professionals to prepare rehabilitation plans.

Arrest rates, nights in prison, emergency hospital visits and the number of people sleeping rough have all decreased since the creation of the court.

- Waikato Times

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