Rooftop bar goes ahead despite downstairs anger

By David Schout

The rooftop of an eight-storey Bourke St building has been approved to operate as a 100-patron bar despite objections from tenants on the levels below.

The Stolen Gem at 388 Bourke St, which currently operates as a private function space, will soon be able to operate as a public bar after City of Melbourne councillors unanimously approved it.

Councillors found there were little grounds from which to object to the rooftop bar, which is set to open next year.

However, tenants of floors below – a mixture of retail, commercial, education, recreation and place of assembly premises – strongly objected to the application.

Concerns related, among others, to the bar’s impact on noise, safety and amenity.

“All of the tenants in this building have been severely affected financially by the COVID-19 lockdowns over the past seven to eight months,” one objection read.

“This report represents another cruel kick in the guts. Loss of business clientele due to the detrimental presence of a public bar on branding and profile to these businesses has not been considered.”

Other concerns surrounded sharing a lift with patrons who had visited the bar, which will be open until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights and 12am on all other nights.

But Matt Newman, director of The Stolen Gem, said they had hosted more than 80 events since opening in 2018 without any major incidents or formal complaints.

“While I am trying to be understanding of the objections we have received, I must admit I am a little disappointed given our track record in working with other tenants of the building,” he said, adding that the application has the sup- port of the building owner.

“I believe our management of the space and approachability as a management team would mean that our fellow tenants would be confident in our exciting new business opportunity.”

The venue has been closed since March, which has had a significant impact on the busi- ness according to Mr Newman.

He said the ability to progress from a purely event space could ensure their longevity.

“The uncertainty of restrictions and private event rules going forward means that this will allow our business to continue operating.”

Cr Rohan Leppert said the application was a “really difficult” and “vexed” issue, while planning chair Nicholas Reece acknowledged the objections.

“I very, very much understand the concerns that they’ve raised and empathise with them,” Cr Reece said.

“Would I be happy about a rooftop bar being put at the top of my building in circumstances that look like this? And the answer is probably not. But the question before us this evening is does this application comply with the Capital City Zone schedule and the other planning overlays and regulations that apply. And the answer here on balance is that yes, it does.”

In the Capital City Zone, bars that accommodate less than 100 patrons and which have appropriate noise reduction plans are encouraged under the Melbourne Planning Scheme.

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