Migrant businesses and the new tower

GMT 17:55 Sunday ,04 May 2014

 Migrant Voice - Migrant businesses and the new tower


Looking down towards the sea from the top of Preston Street, you wouldn't think it was once the thriving 'restaurant street' of Brighton. Before the North Laine area started pulling business away in around 1995, the 320 metre stretch boasted 46 restaurants out of 63 units. A collection of mainly migrant owned outlets, having originally arrived to capitalise on the personality of the street as a multicultural eating hotspot, cling on to what business there is left. However, the customers simply aren't there, and more and more of the units are being left derelict as time goes on. But the fate of what some consider the 'Chinatown' of Brighton could be set to change. A few weeks ago, Brighton Councillors agreed a controversial £36 million loan towards the i360, a 183 metre (600 ft) observation tower located on the seafront at the foot of the steel skeleton that was once the West Pier. Due to open in 2016, the council insist it will attract 750,000 visitors and takings of £1 million per year, bringing tourism and therefore business to Brighton from far and wide. At around 400 ft away, the business owners of long suffering Preston Street have found themselves caught up in the battle between supporters and dissenters of the tower development. Will the hordes of tourists really line the pavements with their holiday money? Or will the planned facilities at the tower - including a 400 capacity restaurant/café - sap what little business the street has left? Valerie Paynter of Save Hove, a network and response group that encourages understanding of and engagement with planning permission applications, is adamant that even if the tower is a success, Preston Street will see none of the benefit. “If built I would expect the i360 to rely on pre-booked coach parties that arrive and leave or party on high,” she said. “The idea that there is anything in it for Preston Street seems unrealistic.” She described how the restaurant in the tower and the regeneration of the area directly below it will ensure that trade remains on the seafront. She added: “You cannot turn the clock back to the era when Preston Street was all there was. The city is awash with too many restaurants in far better, widely dispersed locations.” Jason Kitcat, Green party councillor, has been a driving force in making the i360 deal happen. He said that Save Hove's claims were “simply not true.” He said: “if people come for an evening meal, they won't go to the café, they will go to Preston Street.” He described how the surrounding area of the seafront would be transformed, including a museum and an art space, and that it was “too early to write anything off” in terms of who will or won't benefit from such a large scale change. But what do the business owners of Preston Street itself have to say on the matter? Just a few feet down from the top of the street is Nishat Tandoori, where manager Ben Hussein from Bangladesh is sceptical. “People can't survive on this road,” he said. “The tower won't make any difference because they are going to build a restaurant down on the seafront.” He also made clear that local parking restrictions - with no parking on the street, and the surrounding areas too expensive – are restricting business. “This is a restaurant area. We need parking.” About halfway down the street, Lebanese manager of Waterfall Restaurant, Jkoub Shamook, is sure the tower will bring in business. He takes the example of the London Eye as a good indication, saying that near it, “all the shops - even those up to a mile around - are busy.” In fact, the tower is being built by the same company who made the London Eye, Marks Barfield. Jason Kitcat mentioned that the company are discussing cross promotion with the council, including a map that will include and promote Preston Street. He also mentioned the idea of a 'Chinatown style' gate at the end of the street, to capitalise on the unique selling point of the area. Angelo Martinoli, manager of Casalingo Italian Restaurant and chairman of Preston Street Traders committee, expressed support of the sign idea. He added that there will be a special crossing and another sign on the seafront to direct tower goers back through Preston Street towards the city centre. Originally from Como, Italy, Angelo is highly optimistic about the tower. “Any development west of the city centre will create a footfall in our street,” he said. In response to Save Hove, he added that “the restaurant at the bottom of the tower will not impact on us at all. So many people will be queuing for the tower that they will have to move on to us.” A little further on, and George Shahata, owner of Medusa bar, sits on the fence when it comes to the tower.  Originally from North Africa, George has lived in Brighton for most of his life. He has spent many years working on Preston Street in various capacities, and as treasurer of the Preston Street Traders Committee, he has a good sense of the general mood about the prospects of change. He said: “Probably about 60% of the street are enthusiastic about the tower, because if they want to sell their property it's going to be valued at a lot more. The rest of us are thinking that we want to see some return at least. If the council are saying they are going to divert everyone down this road, we want to see that happen.” Drawing nearer to the end of the street on the left, Rami Aktepe from Turkey is overseeing renovations ready to open a new Turkish restaurant in a previously empty unit. He chose to move into Preston Street as a direct result of the tower. He's certain that facilities at the tower won't detract business from Preston Street, at least not from the higher quality restaurants. He mentions Portsmouth's spinnaker tower in his arguments, and takes a similar line to Jason Kitcat: “I go to Portsmouth and I never eat inside [the tower]. Because inside what are you going to get?  Fast food. We are not fast food.” He added that like him, others are rushing in to capitalize on the promise of the i360. “Everybody is looking for shops here now,” he said, pointing out another derelict unit across the street that was taken over the week before. At the very end of the street, Maria Gonzalez, owner of the Beach View Cafe is hopeful abut what the tower may do for Preston Street. "It should make a difference really - that's what it's for." Across the road at the bottom of Preston Street, construction for the tower is already under way. At this stage, it seems there is very little to stop the project going ahead. Will the 'restaurant street' be consigned to history? Or will it be re-crowned? To at least some of the business owners, 2016 holds considerable hope. Article by Emilio Casalicchio


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