Character v safety in battle for K Rd

By Wayne Thompson

The local board that oversees K Rd is seeking comments on its draft plan for the area known for its rough edges as well as its characters, cafes, pubs and nightspots.
Karangahape Rd today.
Karangahape Rd today.

Karangahape Rd has long been known for its character - which includes everything from quirky stores and trendy cafes to a vibrant nightlife and prostitution.

For some, that mix is what makes the area unique and appealing. For others it's a mix that needs to change. A road that needs to be cleaned up.

Now, the public are being given the chance to have their say on the future of K Rd.

The Waitemata Local Board's draft K Road Plan - now out for comment - suggests it should be a "safe and well-connected place that offers a range of housing and employment-generating activities, celebrates its distinctive historical and cultural heritage, and reinforces its role as the colourful 24/7 entertainment and creative fringe of the city centre".

Board members basically want to create a place that is safer at night.

"The problem is how to keep the colour and yet make it a safer place for business," said board member Vernon Tava, who presented the draft.

Read more:
K Road beauty has colourful past

Some business owners the Herald has spoken to say they are tired of their doorways and carparks being used by binge drinkers and sex workers on the streets of the red light district. Others have mixed views, with one businessman saying, "I'm over street people though I chose to be here and it's all part of it, it has its spice of life, I suppose".

Two-thirds of K Rd property owners have restored their buildings in recent years, including the Lim Chhour Shopping Centre in the heritage Rendells department store building. The building's property manager, Muy Chhour, said one part of the road was developed nicely and this should continue to bring in more business.

"It needs a tidy-up and made more respectable for people to come and do business.

"During the day it is good but night is different. We would like less of drinking establishments with less drunken people around."


Photo / Dean Purcell

Mr Tava said a hostile environment was created with a four-lane main road going along the centre and the road being disconnected where the trench was cut for the motorway.

"As well as division, there are areas of isolated pockets and dark corners where dangerous stuff can happen.

"But the main move is looking at opening the connections between areas."

There are other big changes in line for the ridge-top precinct of some 600 businesses and a few hundred residents who enjoy views over the city. The proposed inner-city rail link will go beneath some of the most important heritage buildings.

Karangahape Rd Station will be near the top of Pitt St and the intersection with Beresford Square.

As plans for transforming K Rd progress there are fears from some residents and workers that it will come at the cost of its notorious and colourful night life.

Prostitutes Collective national coordinator Catherine Healy said sex workers played an important role in the social fabric and K Rd's X-factor.

"K Rd has traded on that verve and personality."

Big progress with improving drunken behaviour is claimed by Grady Elliott, who is the owner-operator of Legend Bar.

"'K Rd's reputation draws people here but they don't want to end up part of the reputation. They want to see it but they don't want to be part of it. They don't want to be a statistic."

Mr Elliott said a turning point in "stopping the carnage" was Len Brown's mayoral taskforce of 2012-13 which improved co-operation with the police.

"But there are 15 places where you can buy liquor to take away. It's easier to get a bottle of wine than a bottle of milk."

Police district prevention manager Inspector Gary Davey said that levels of alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder on and around K Rd have reduced marginally since the introduction of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act last December.

There had been a drop in levels of reported public place violence compared with what was happening a few years ago.

Police visibility through prevention initiatives alongside licensed premises managers and routine deployment to the area over peak times on Friday and Saturday nights over the past couple of years has also contributed to a safer environment there. "But there is still some considerable way to go before harm caused by alcohol is minimised in that and other areas of the city."


Barbara Holloway. Photo / Sarah Ivey

K Rd Business Association precinct manager Barbara Holloway said a marketing strategy for the area focused on a youthful, vibrant image. About 40 per cent of the precinct's businesses were of the creative type.

"Young people want to hang out with like-minded people in old buildings with lower rentals and you get retail and cafes that are more interesting and quirky."

She said draft plan meetings showed everyone wanted the same.

People also wanted better public transport, cycle routes, pedestrian-friendly environment, community gardens on a disused Nelson St motorway off-ramp, and better access to Myers Park.

There were issues around safety and cleanliness, but despite that there was no wish to sweep the homeless and sex workers off the streets.

The Waitemata local board's draft plan suggests

• Co-ordinate and work with K Rd business association, local businesses and the Prostitutes Collective to implement the council's Commercial Sex Industry Policy to provide a "safe and inclusive K Rd environment".

• Work with local agencies and key social service providers to implement the council's Homeless Action Plan to address issues around homelessness in the K Rd area.

• Key move to create a safe and enjoyable environment to live, work and play.

• Develop a Safety Action Plan for K Rd involving local businesses and the community to address issues around antisocial behaviour, safety and security, and provide a clean, safe environment for all.

• Work with local providers of social infrastucture and community spaces so the diverse needs of the community can be met.

• Upgrade and provide public toilets.

Lay off K Rd, retailers tell council and developers


Damaris Coulter. Photo / Dean Purcell

Five years ago, sisters Damaris and Renee Coulter set up Coco's Cantina restaurant on Karangahape Rd. They have since become part of the street's life and soul and, like many others with stores along the famous strip, do not want the local board and council setting the area's vision.

"What is important about K Rd for us is to keep the culture," said Damaris.

"K Rd represents arts, crafts, creatives, prostitutes, cafes, culture, vintage, second-hand, small business, owner-operators and lefties. The last thing we want to see is K Rd becoming mediocre and mainstream like Ponsonby."

Ms Coulter said the K Rd Business Association had been keeping the integrity and artistic creativity of K Rd, alongside what it had always been - a red-light district.

"But if the vision is taken over by the council, which is pressured by developers and corporations and high property prices, everything becomes clean and middle-class acceptable and mainstream.

"The council wants a liveable city, but for who?"

Ms Coulter said prostitutes should not be pushed out, given their association with the area.

"Coco's feed prostitutes on Friday - for our staff to drop down dinner is a good way for them to learn about different people. I believe: let's integrate, work alongside each other and let's build a community."

Ms Coulter is not the only one attracted to the location for its great character. Rachael Pilcher is the new girl on the block of 20 vintage clothing stores in Karangahape Rd.

She started the modern vintage outlet Rita Sue in 2006 and has recently relocated from a Pt Chev store to St Kevin's Arcade.


Rachael Pilcher. Photo / Sarah Ivey

"I'm really lucky to get a shop here," she said. "I tried two years ago and there was nothing available.

"K Rd is a logical place for people to go because it's the vintage hub. It's quirky, a bit eccentric ... like me. The arcade is beautiful. It's perfect for us. It's untouched art deco."

Ms Pilcher said the area felt like a little community.

"Pretty much all you need - food and wine - is in the arcade and we all help each other out. This is the right place to inspire you."

Across the arcade is Front Room Fabrics, established in 1992 by Nicola Guinness, who relocated from a villa in Ponsonby six years ago.

She said the rents were more reasonable than Ponsonby or Parnell and it had good character spaces.

"It's like Ponsonby Rd was 20 years ago ... It's a little more edgy and downbeat, which I don't mind, and I can walk through to Myers Park, though always in the day."

Karangahape Rd east from Pitt St early last century.
Karangahape Rd east from Pitt St early last century.

History of K Rd

1850: Partington's Mill is believed to be the first major building on what was to become K Rd. The flour-grinding windmill was demolished in 1950 and its site is now the Langham Hotel.

1915: Myers Park opened as a collaboration between Mayor James Parr and businessman and former mayor Sir Arthur Myers, who paid for the Myers Kindergarten and playground.

Many old buildings, especially the shops built in the italianate style, survived - unlike in other areas of Auckland - because property prices dropped during the 1930s depression. Architects say K Rd's special look is a dense concentration of differing facades from differing periods, forming a uniform height along the street edge.

1960s: Strip clubs move in, including the notorious Pink Pussy Cat. But K Rd stays a popular shopping precinct with department stores such as Rendells and George Court.

1970s: Suburban malls such as St Lukes take a lot of trade away from K Rd. Major businesses leave and rents tumble.

1990-98: A number of nightclubs move in from downtown Auckland. This changed the area's reputation as a red-light district to a clubbing centre to complement nearby Ponsonby Rd.Commercial real estate agents now describe it as a mixture of boutiques for young clothing designers, artists' studios, nightclubs, cafes, bars and retail outlets.

Mid 1990s: Inner-city living encouraged by the then Auckland City Council results in new apartment blocks being built. The old Pink Pussy Cat building is redeveloped by Samson Corp into office and retail complexes. That company also built the seven-level rust-coloured Ironbank, which won a commercial sustainable architecture and design award in 2009.

- NZ Herald

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