There was overwhelming support for Humber’s bar licence from police, the council, community and even the state’s top liquor bureaucrat at a public forum to debate the venue’s merits on Thursday.
But hardline questions from the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) panel means the decision still hangs in the balance.
More than 100 people attended the forum, held at Wollongong City Gallery on Thursday afternoon, with all 10 community speakers voicing support for the bar.
Notably, Wollongong police superintendent Kyle Stewart spoke of his ‘‘conditional support’’ for the venue, and indicated local police expected to see a drop in the number of alcohol-related assaults at the end of the 2014-15 financial year.
And, in a major turnaround from a previous recommendation that ILGA should reject Humber’s licence because Wollongong had too many bars, the executive director of the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) Paul Newson also made positive comments.
‘‘I had the benefit of having a tour of the venue prior to [this] event commencing, and I must say I was quite impressed with the fit-out and feel and sense of amenity of the venue,’’ Mr Newson said.
He noted OLGR’s submission has raised concerns about the density of licences in Wollongong but admitted that report had omitted research suggesting a mix of venues could have a positive influence on an area.
‘‘There is absolutely a cumulative impact, but every licence does not have the same effect,’’ he said.
‘‘A cafe, restaurants or a small bar has a very different effect to a large hotel or traditional booze barn.’’
Mr Newson also said he was ‘‘very impressed’’ by the other speakers.
‘‘I attend many forums and I can tell you that none of them have had a collective voice that has been sponsoring a liquor application,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve heard from the Lord Mayor, we’ve heard from the local area commander and we’ve heard from the average citizen and there’s been a uniform voice that has been encouraging of this venue and I think it’s appropriate that we acknowledge that.’’
Despite the emphatic approval from all speakers, ILGA chair Chris Sidoti and other panel members took an uncompromising approach.
They repeatedly referred to Humber’s ‘‘upper mid-sized’’ capacity of 250 and honed in on a 20-incident increase of alcohol-related violence across the Wollongong local government area in 2014.
At the end of the forum Mr Sidoti said the panel would go away to deliberate over whether to approve Humber’s licence, telling owner Adam Murphy the decision would not take long.
Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, who had weighed into the Humber debate late last year by sending a letter to city centre residents saying she had heard concerns over the number of licences, did not attend the forum.
Wollongong Police Superintendent Kyle Stewart:
Our support is driven by the fact that our negotiations with the applicant have been fruitful, that they have given us a sense of satisfaction in terms of what they propose for the western end of Crown Street. It is clear the western end is in desperate need of some form of makeover, [and] urban renewal has many crime safety benefits.’’
ILGA panel chair Chris Sidoti:
The concern that is flashing warning signs for us is that the progress [in regards to alcohol-related violence statistics] of the last seven years ... is starting to bottom out and go in reverse. This is a slight, but still significant turnaround.
Red Square licensee Michael Bolt:
I think this is one of the best things that’s going to happen in town and I would like a lot more of this to happen. This is the most vibrant town has been in two decades ... and the crime has certainly dissipated.
Director of Ray White real estate Ben Mostyn:
I think it would be discouraging for us to see such a strong business model such as Humber bar go through such bureaucracy trying to work out its licence. If these hurdles are put in place I think it’s going to be more difficult [for the revitalisation of west Crown Street to occur].
Resident Matthew Dawson:
I live, work and play in Wollongong. My days at the uni bar are long behind me and I am not quite yet ready for the RSL. But I like to head out at night and enjoy a quiet drink and I’m looking for an alternative.