Strip club owners the Chow brothers have dropped plans for a controversial, central-city, 15-floor super-brothel, in a last-minute backdown welcomed by opponents of Auckland's burgeoning flesh trade.
The proposed brothel, across the road from SkyCity casino and the thriving Federal St restaurant precinct, had been approved by the Auckland Council — disregarding concerns it would create a 24/7 sex, booze and crime neighbourhood.
But this weekend, in an exclusive interview with the Herald on Sunday, John Chow said a bruising liquor licensing battle had exhausted the brothers' patience.
"I think with the new liquor licence and the law change, we will be looking to reconsider our project opposite SkyCity," he said. "We need to balance the risks and make a commercial decision. The project had been dragging on for some time, and sometimes you lose your mojo."
The Chows will consider building apartments or a hotel, or might sell the land which has been vacant since November 2010.
The project had been mired in controversy from the outset. In November 2010, as the Chows were renovating the former Palace Hotel to turn it into a brothel, structural damage forced the Auckland Council to demolish the building. It handed the brothers a quarter-million-dollar demolition bill.
Their resource consent application for the super-brothel drew 220 opposing submissions but was still approved. "In the next couple of weeks we will speak to the planners. We want to make a firm decision some time this year. It's costing us money," John Chow said.
The final straw for the Chows came after they'd renewed liquor licences for their two Auckland clubs in Karangahape Rd and Gore St.
At a colourful two-day hearing in January, rival K Rd strip-club owner Jacqui Le Prou, from Calendar Girls, called sex workers formerly employed by the Chows to testify against them. They alleged the brothers were regularly intoxicated at work and would intimidate women working at the club.
In its judgment, due to be released next week, the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority says the evidence from Le Prou and others "totally lacked credibility".
"The authority is aware that there is a longstanding and bitter dispute raging between the Chow brothers and the owners of the Calendar Girls operations," says deputy secretary Alexandra Cannell. "The functions of the authority do not include arbitrating over a turf war being waged by trade competitors."
Despite the win, John Chow was concerned a new liquor licence application for the super-brothel could become mired in another costly legal battle, and could delay opening for up to nine months after its completion.
"If we get everything built, if one or two people object, it can drag on for six to nine months. That would be a big disaster. You cannot trade. It makes life very difficult. We need to balance the risks of the business."
He did not want to comment on the feud with Calendar Girls. "It's not my nature to talk about other operators."
Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson said she preferred to see the location used for a more inclusive purpose. "This is where most of our tourists come. If we want a really truly vibrant place to be, I don't think that's the best type of business."