The Te Atatu Tavern
The Te Atatu Tavern was the Waitakere Licensing Trust’s first tavern and opened in 1974. These days it is a weeping sore that exemplifies much of what is wrong with The Trusts.
The site is 8,141 m² (that’s over two acres) of perfectly flat land right in the middle of the Te Atatu Peninsula village. About 95% of the site is potholed carpark or empty/dilapidated buildings. The last 5% is an old school public bar with a TAB and 18 gaming machines. There’s also a privately operated drive-through coffee caravan in the car-park (which makes good coffee and is quite popular).
The bar itself is OK; it has a rich history and loyal customers but for most of the week it is more or less empty. Their food offer is bar snacks like chips and wedges but despite that, they open at 11am – 7 days a week.
Those gaming machines extract about $1.3 million out of the community each year. 
The Trusts have recently opened a new tavern (Mr Illingsworth) in an adjacent development and have also relocated their off-license there too.
So what is to become of the Te Atatu Tavern?
- The owner of the adjacent site (Helen Moore) stated in early 2018 “Helen Moore says that together with The Trusts they will be working on a long-term master plan to fully develop both the Moore’s property, and The Trusts land”.
- Our information requests to the Waitakere Licensing Trust (WLT) for any further information about the planned developments were refused on the basis that disclosure would disadvantage their commercial negotiations.
- A member of the public attended the monthly meeting of the WLT in September 2018 and this information was recorded in the minutes:
- Shane Henderson (WLT elected member for Te Atatu) stated to me in early February that the WLT members had not discussed the future of the Tavern site. However in late March, he commented on Facebook
- And this from the Tavern’s Facebook page gives us an idea of the scale of the renovation:
So it looks like the WLT have decided to give the Te Atatu Tavern a superficial makeover and it will continue to operate for the next few years at least.
So what’s wrong with all that?
- The site should have been redeveloped 10+ years ago. The Waitakere Licensing Trust has let Te Atatu down by letting the site deteriorate to its current state.
- The Tavern site offers no amenity to the vast majority of residents (except the drive-through coffee). The dilapidated state of the buildings and carpark detracts from the local amenity – to put it bluntly, it is a bloody awful eyesore.
- The gaming machines draw $1.3 million out of the local economy – much of it from those with addiction issues and those who can least afford it.
- The site is valued by Council at $5.55 million, but its market value could be much higher. Using a 6.5% return on capital, the opportunity cost of holding the site is $360,000+ each year. That means we’re giving up $360,000+ in community funding every year that the WLT sit and do nothing with that site.
- There’s no way that this place is making a profit without the pokies. Overall, The Trusts hospitality business loses money without the pokies – and it’s hard to imagine the Tavern is one of their better performing bars. That means we’re effectively subsidising a gaming venue when we pay the inflated prices at West Liquor.
It’s hard not to think that the gaming machines have influenced the WLT’s decision making here. Auckland’s sinking-lid policy means that if the tavern were to close or move, the gaming machines would be lost forever (they cannot move to a new premise). The gaming proceeds are distributed by “The Trusts Community Foundation” (TTCF Ltd) and so The Trusts benefit from the pokies not only through the rents, but also from the credit for TTCF’s grants which are misattributed to them by the vast majority of the public. Two elected members of The Trusts are also directors of TTCF Ltd (Ross Clow and Warren Flaunty).
Where to from here:
The WLT should be pushing for re-development of the site as soon as possible. Obviously, there are other parties involved and there doesn’t appear to be any meaningful progress to date, so we can’t expect any immediate results
In the meantime, there are a number of things I think the WLT should be exploring / doing:
- Selling the site to Panuku. The WLT is not a property developer nor should it ever be. When the development finally does happen, we don’t just want any development – we want a great development. If Panuku were willing to take ownership of the site, they would bring their expertise in urban redevelopment. It would also free up $5+ million of cash which could be invested or given back to the community.
- Closing the tavern or changing things up so it makes a profit. Unless the Tavern is covering its own costs (without the gambling revenues) – it should not be operating. Propping up a gaming venue from the proceeds from a legislated monopoly is just wrong on so many levels.
- Demolishing the buildings and using the space for pop-ups and markets instead. An empty space would be better than what we’ve got right now.
- Taking out the pokies (if they don’t close the tavern). At the very least, they should reduce the number of machines and operate shorter hours.
- Moving the bar to somewhere else on the Peninsula. If there are enough customers who enjoy what the Tavern offers, perhaps there is a business case to re-open on a smaller site.
What a re-development could look like
I think Te Atatu can be grateful that Helen Moore owns the Countdown site adjacent to the Tavern. The Point is a thoughtful development and she has been careful selecting tenants that bring benefit to the community. It really sets things up nicely.
Just for a bit of fun, I’ve sketched out what a development across the two sites could look like.
Depending on demand, the mixed use developments on Te Atatu Road and Gunner Drive could be ground floor retail with offices above. The building set back from the road could be ground floor retail with residential above. Apartments would enjoy views across the gun emplacements to the harbour and the city.
A development like this could bring hundreds of people into the town centre every day for work, and it would also bring their daily spend to the local shops. Centrally located residents will also spend much of their money locally.
A town square / plaza set away from the main road would be ideal for cafés, restaurants and bars with outdoor areas. Obviously, filling those new shops with restaurants, cafés and bars will be much easier without the monopoly in place (we’re working on that).
The scale of the opportunity that redevelopment of these two sites presents for Te Atatu Peninsula cannot be over-stated. A truly great development would provide Te Atatu Peninsula with incredible amenity, as well as economic and social benefits.
Can we trust the WLT to deliver something great?