Does Hamilton need to establish a red-light district?
Restaurant diners being solicited by prostitutes, people performing indecencies outside brothels, and explicit signs and billboards in full view of children: All of these are feeding calls for Hamilton to establish a red-light district, in an attempt to corral the city's adult entertainment businesses - and some associated unsavoury behaviour - into one area.
The Hamilton Central Business Association, along with several business owners, is leading the charge, saying Hamilton has reached the point where it needs to do something to address a growing problem.
Association general manager Sandy Turner said members had raised concerns, mostly "around why these businesses are able to just open without any restrictions in place in the district plan", she said.
Ms Turner said the mixture of adult entertainment businesses like brothels, strip clubs and swinger bars did not mix well with neighbouring businesses.
"We don't want our family-friendly places in the city centre affected by these kinds of outlets or affecting consumers' choices around whether to come into the city at night."
The association was looking at options for designating a red-light district in the proposed district plan, which outlines the future development of the city, and would consult with members about the best location, she said.
At present, there are about 11 adult entertainment businesses operating in the central city. Council bylaws restrict where brothels can operate, however they are considered a retail activity, along with strip clubs and adult shops, so require no special consent to operate in a retail zone.
There is a bylaw forbidding street solicitation by prostitutes, however some say it is being ignored.
House of Montrose chief executive Susan Stevenson, which runs the New Zealand Curriculum Design Institute in Liverpool St, said she had seen people performing indecencies in full view of her office.
She said her international visitors were frequently solicited by prostitutes or invited into the brothel.
Ms Stevenson said she specifically asked the council whether a brothel could start up nearby when she purchased the $1 million building in 2012, as she knew "it would not be a good look" for her business.
She said she was assured it could not happen but a brothel and a swingers' club had recently opened nearby.
"The current situation is sapping the energy of the local business people and, instead of developing, most are struggling with the issues around legal highs, central city image and council reluctance to act and show leadership," she said. "Everyone should have a right to run their business but I don't think they've got a right to run a business that runs the businesses around them into the ground."
She said it was particularly disappointing to be dealing with the issue during the city's 150th celebration.
"I think that Hamilton looks like K-Road in the 1950s. It's just tacky and sleazy," Ms Stevenson said.
Problems were also evident at the southern end of Victoria St, although there was a mixed response from business owners as to whether a red-light district was needed.
Debbie Burgess, manager at Iguana restaurant, said that in the past year the
Stiletto's strip club had opened up next door.
"It kind of escalated just a little bit more with having girls outside yelling for people to come in," she said.
"I haven't heard [customers] saying anything but it's not people saying things. They are definitely thinking it.
"For them to leave the door and see stiletto-wearing girls yelling out to customers or people in the public to come in and see tips and tricks and stuff like that is not really fun at all."
She supported the development of a red-light district.
However, Momento cafe company director Craig Paul said he had had no issues with his neighbours, strip club Hush Hush.
"They drink a lot of our coffee and they all appear to be really nice people. Prior to it being there we'd had a few broken windows and things like that at night, and we've had no damage done to the outside of the building since they've been in operation."
He said that as long as inner-city red-light venues were well run, there was no need to restrict where they operated.
"I think that a little bit of colour in a city is a good thing. It all adds to the mix, so long as they are well-mannered and the activities aren't flaunted in the street. If they're professionally run, they're a good addition to any city."
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the city was not big enough for a designated red-light area - although she was unsure how large it had to be to consider establishing one. "My personal view is we are probably a city too small to have a dedicated red-light district.
"Certainly we know they are very useful in larger cities, and we know Auckland has a known red-light district, but I think Hamilton's a bit too small."
She said the activities occurring breached bylaws and needed to be dealt with by the police.
"I think we've got a pretty good regime in place but the council is always open to talking to people about these things," she said.
Ian Howlett, the owner of Sensual Relax in Liverpool St, said he could understand concerns from family businesses, and he was not opposed to a red-light district but he did not think it was needed in Hamilton.
"It doesn't bother me either way to be honest, whether they're in an area or spread out.
"If you put it in an area, people will complain about it anyway.
"If you go down the far end of Victoria St on a Saturday night you get young people who have pissed all over the street. That's not a good look either."
He said claims of inappropriate behaviour outside his premises were not true.
"My honest response to that: What a load of bullshit, to be honest.
"That could be anyone. That could be some young people being stupid.
"People can say anything." email@example.com
- Waikato Times