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October 24, 2014

One on one: Gareth Lewis

Despite this being Gareth Lewis’ first run at a spot on the Adelaide City Council, the venue owner and hospitality veteran is no stranger to Council processes.

  • Words: Johnny Von Einem

“To be honest, I’ve been fighting with the council for nine years, and I know a lot of the hospitality industry in Adelaide does,” he laughs.

As part owner of Jack Ruby, Downtown HDCB, the Kings Head Hotel, and General Admission Entertainment (who have been the licensee for Parklife, Soundwave and Future Music Festival, among others), Gareth Lewis noticed a distinct lack of representation for the hospitality industry at Council level. With his run to be elected as an area councillor, he hopes to change that.

“The council has always relied on the administration to advise them on issues with hospitality, outdoor dining, use of parklands for events, that sort of thing. So yeah, it’s always been odd to me that no one represents that community.”

His frustration toward the bureaucracy of council is made clear as he uses the example of the restaurant across the road from us – Gareth explains the almost two-year process they’ve been going through to get umbrellas approved for their outside dining area.

“Essentially this street’s now closed; it’s closed to through-traffic, but they’ve been rejected because they [the umbrellas] overhang the street by, I think it’s 15cm, but it overhangs a street which isn’t used for vehicles.”

It’s in these situations that Gareth believes there should be a Councillor business owners can go to, who can provide advice and insight from the perspective of both industry and administration.

But Gareth says he wouldn’t be acting purely for the benefit of business. With a hospitality and event-focussed presence on the council he hopes to change an attitude that he says has cost the city some popular events.

“When Parklife ended they started a new event called Listen Out, and every city council in Australia gave them some sort of support; monetary support, or promotional support, to bring that event to their city. Adelaide was the only one that didn’t and hence, we don’t have the event in Adelaide. I just find that contrary to the message of vibrancy and retaining our people,” he says.

The retention of young people is another of Gareth’s aims, but he knows it’ll take more than a bustling hospitality industry.

“I’ve just purchased an Ergo apartment and I know there was sort of a co-investment from the City Council into that project … Projects like that I think are really helpful, and helpful to young people; I mean I employ 50 people on a week-to-week basis, a lot of them rent in the city, none of them can afford to buy in the city.

“It would be great for them to get opportunities to get in the market here so there’s encouragement for them to stay in Adelaide when they finish uni so they don’t have to leave town.”

The promotion of South Australian produce is also an area that Gareth has put a lot of energy into as a business owner; he’s an ambassador for the state’s premium food and wine program, and the Kings Head has served only South Australian beer, food and wine since 2008.

“I’d love to develop some incentives for city businesses to stock local produce. It’s a difficult space because obviously, without funds, I think it’s something that needs to be co-invested by the State Government,” he says.

“And it doesn’t have to just be in the hospitality sector, retail as well. I know a bunch of local fashion designers that have struggled in their own shops and have had to close down in the city, so giving them access to other people’s stores might work. I think Renew Adelaide does really well with that as well, so yeah, expanding those sorts of programs.”

With his many connections in the hospitality and event industry, Gareth is already quite heavily invested in Adelaide’s cultural identity, but that makes his interest in shaping it from the political sphere all the more genuine.

“It’s council-level, so I can help regardless of people’s political alliance. I can help the people in my industries get a voice and, you know, get their opinions heard.”

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