Sugar nightclub owner Driller Jet Armstrong, who last year ran temporary Fringe bar and restaurant SugaTeca on a laneway off Rundle Street, said the popular venue would not return this year after he was quoted a liquor licence fee that was 467 per cent more than what he paid last year.
InDaily has seen copies of receipts showing Armstrong, who ran SugaTeca in collaboration with McLaren Vale restaurant Pizzateca, was charged $563 to serve alcohol at the bar during last year’s festival.
This year he was quoted $3193 to run the venue at the same capacity and location.
The blowout has prompted the Consumer and Business Services commissioner to pledge he will “look into options” to reduce the fee hike in the wake of sweeping State Government-imposed changes to liquor licensing rules and charges.
In a Facebook post yesterday afternoon, Armstrong – a vocal opponent to the liquor licensing changes – said he would not pay this year’s liquor licence fee “on principle”, arguing Premier Steven Marshall had “killed the vibe” of Adelaide’s nightlife.
“There is no discount for contributing to the cultural fabric of this city and I’m sorry but I aint bustin’ my ass for four weeks for nothing,” he wrote.
“I won’t put my staff through it either.
“The opportunity for hours of employment and new employees added to the busy roster (is) lost.”
Armstrong told InDaily the fee hike was “sneaky and outrageous”, adding “no one would want to run something on that kind of money”.
“We wanted to do it (SugaTeca) again mainly because it was fun but also because it contributes to the Fringe in such a good way and allows us to pay off some debt when it’s all said and done, especially coming out of winter,” he said.
“It was a huge success last year and it added so much colour to the street, which was the main point of doing it.
“But I won’t do it again this year on principle.”
Under short-term liquor licensing changes imposed in May last year, bars that are open past 2am are required to pay a $100 daily fee in addition to an application fee.
Other liquor licensing changes mean Armstrong will be forced to pay an annual fee of $15,000 – up from the current $2200 – to serve alcohol at his bricks and mortar nightclub Sugar once his current licence runs out in November.
In an email sent to Armstrong yesterday – seen by InDaily – Consumer and Business Services general licensing manager John Doran said it was “correct” that this year’s short-term liquor licence fee was higher than last year’s cost.
In a separate email sent yesterday – also seen by InDaily – Consumer and Business Services commissioner Dini Soulio said he would “look into options” to address the short-term licence cost.
“Leave it with me. We will have a look at Fringe event options,” he said.
A State Government spokesperson confirmed to InDaily this morning that Soulio was “currently reviewing whether a cap on licensing costs should be reinstated for upcoming Fringe activities”.
“CBS are happy to work with him (Armstrong) going forward regarding any Fringe licenses he wants to apply for,” the spokesperson said.
But the fee hike has prompted concerns small businesses will be locked-out from contributing to the vibrancy of the Fringe through temporary activations.
Business SA CEO Martin Haese said an increase to short-term liquor licenses was “profoundly disappointing”, adding it was important to “cut some slack” to small businesses seeking to profit from increased visitation in the city during the festival season.
“Keeping costs down for small businesses and temporary activations is very important because otherwise you would rob the motivation to take part in cultural events such as the Fringe,” he said.
InDaily contacted Fringe director Heather Croall for comment.
Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde, who last month advocated for the Adelaide City Council to convene a round table with the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner to address liquor licensing issues, described the short-term licence fee increase as “draconian”.
“These are ad-hoc government changes… are supposed to mitigate risk but we have all walked past this Fringe event and I would challenge anyone to find any increase in risk,” he said.
“Given the State Government approach to this policy area I have little faith in their ability to come up with an approach that is supportive of the industry or devised in consultation with the industry.”
But Hyde said the council’s “hands are tied” when it comes to influencing changes to liquor licensing fees.
Armstrong welcomed news of a review into short-term liquor licenses, but said it could come too late with the Fringe just over one month away from launching its 2020 season.
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