While the inaugural Sail Grand Prix put Lyttelton “on the map”, some business owners say the influx of customers they prepared for had not eventuated.
An estimated 15,000 spectators lined the harbour to watch arch rivals New Zealand and Australia face off on the final day of racing on Sunday.
Boisterous cheers from the harbourside spectators accompanied the yachts hurtling around the course, with crowds visible lining the cliff side streets of Diamond Harbour opposite, as the Canadians trumped the trans tasman duo to win the final race of the day.
But some Lyttelton business owners were disappointed with the lack of customers in the port town during the two-day event.
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Ed Monteschio, owner of London St gelato and pizzeria Bomba, said it had been exciting to have an international event in town, but the influx of business he prepared for hadn’t transpired.
“It was a bit of a desert really while the racing was on.
“It was very busy Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. But on the event days we had extra food, more staff and more prep, and it was a bit of a disappointment in that sense.”
Fears Lyttleton would be overwhelmed prompted measures such as traffic management, parking restrictions and tunnel closure to all but permitted vehicles, which “caused a problem”, he said.
He compared the world’s most lucrative sailing race with the recent Port Noise festival, which he said had been fantastic for local businesses.
“We have local community driven events, and we see very quickly the benefits from those but this kind of event, we’ll need a bit more time to see the benefits for the community.”
The Lyttelton Arms pub had been “very quiet” on Saturday, said manager Ange Ronan, after a busy couple of days in the lead up to the weekend with a mix of race spectators and cruise passengers.
Ronan said she didn’t know exactly what food and drink options were available at the race venue, but “it made sense for people to stay down there, where the fun is”.
She thought the event had been “all right” for Lyttleton overall, helping to “put them on the map”.
Saturday had been “pretty dead” at Civil and Naval bar and restaurant, said chef Yuki Maekawa, with “no-one coming to Lyttleton from outside” once the road closures were in place, and the SailGP crowd going directly between the race venue and the city.
“I think it would have been nicer if everyone could have joined in with the racing event … watching it from the hills or the street.”
He described the travel restrictions as “overkill”, and said it was “pretty big” that “one private company has the right to shut the road, killing all the business for 10 hours over the weekend”.
Maekawa was dubious there would be much benefit to the Lyttelton community unless there were changes in the future.
Even without the expected crowds, the “vibe” had been exciting over the weekend, Henry Trading owner Maree Henry said.
She had enjoyed the visual transformation of the harbour, from the usual industrial scenes to the imposing catamarans.
Henry too had concerns the event seemed “segregated” from the community, and she remained focused on local customers who kept the “business buoyant” year round.
Lyttelton local and New Zealand music legend Marlon Williams described seeing his hometown on the global stage “converted into this spectacle” as “surreal”.
“I’m overwhelmed with how smoothly it’s all gone.”
But he said there needed to be more of an effort to integrate the Lyttelton community.
“Obviously we’ve got the landscape, but Lyttelton is such an amazing cultural hub, and the people element didn’t seem to be connected to the event.”
The Pacific Explorer cruise ship and her 2000 passengers were also in port for the day.
Australians Graham and Jill Hutchinson had decided against making the trip to Christchurch after passengers were advised getting into the city and back would be complicated by the SailGP traffic restrictions.
The ship’s late arrival meant several of the scheduled day excursions were cancelled, channelling welcome custom into the port town.
Economic development agency ChristchurchNZ, which is funded by ratepayers and central government, contributed $1 million and $500,000 of “in kind” contributions to bring the event to the city, and the same amount again for it’s return in 2025, while the government contributed $5.4m from its major events fund over the four years.
A ChristchurchNZ social media post late Saturday said road closures had been extended to include Summit Rd from Evans Pass Rd to Mt Pleasant Rd and Mt Pleasant Rd from Upper Major Hornbrook Dr to Summit Rd, accompanied by a photo of cars parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the road.
“This is because these roads became clogged on Saturday with cars parked on either side of the road that would have blocked emergency service vehicles.”
A police spokesperson said there had been no delays in emergency service response times “due to road closures or otherwise,” and “no incidents” related to the event.