Wollongong's newest small bar has closed without opening after the owners became entangled in months of costly red tape.
With several similar ventures in planning, the closure has highlighted the challenges facing inexperienced would-be small bar operators.
Art Bar Wollongong was to be a small bar and commission-free art exhibition space upstairs in the Lang’s Corner building on Crown and Kembla streets.
Owners Paul Divall, Sean O’Shannassy and Ryan Cram ploughed a large share of their $100,000 start-up into gallery-level lighting, flocked wallpaper, rows of opulent old chandeliers and King Louis-style furniture, hoping to appeal to an over-30s clientele.
They brought the site to near completion late last year, but extracted themselves from their lease and began selling off the chandeliers and furniture from Mr Divall’s Wollongong garage last month when negotiations with the building owner failed.
‘‘I’m gutted, just devastated,’’ said Mr Divall, a 30-year-old underground miner.
‘‘You just look at the stuff in the garage and think it would have been a great venture. It’s a shame to bury it all.’’
The men submitted a development application to Wollongong City Council late last year and began working on the bar’s fit-out, assuming its earlier use as a restaurant and bar boded well for their plans.
The site was unoccupied for about 18 months but once housed licensed restaurants Merak and, earlier, Ritz on Crown. It was a nightclub, the Megadrome, in the 1980s.
Their DA was approved but final consent depended on the site meeting Building Codes of Australia requirements.
The men downed tools when they received their assessor’s report calling for $100,000 worth of upgrades, not only to the Art Bar but the entire building.
The work included points of egress, signage and fire separation for the walls.
Co-owner Sean O’Shannassy said the trio understood the eventual decision of the building owner, Sargents Charitable Foundation, not to carry out the upgrades because the site could be used for other purposes - such as offices.
He suggested the council’s recently created City Centre Revitalisation team might ‘‘smooth the path’’ for similar ventures in future.
"Council were well within their rights to ask for these safety upgrades to happen, but couldn’t provide us with any ways to overcome it,’’ Mr O’Shannassy said.
Council’s three-man city centre team was created in July and is headed by former Wollongong Business Chamber chief Mark Grimson.
A council spokesman said the team was made aware of development applications for new ventures with a cultural leaning, or potential to revitalise the city, and confirmed it was among the team’s duties to help such businesses - ‘‘along with council’s business development manager’’.
‘‘Council has met with the [Art Bar] applicants on several occasions to discuss and provide advice on those conditions of consent,’’ the spokesman said.
‘‘People wishing to establish a business should ensure they understand the requirements of conditions in their DA.’’