Docklands traders relieved as Melbourne Star wheel finally turns

The Southern Star wheel. Photo: Justin McManusFor a fleeting moment the Docklands wheel groaned into action high above the harbour suburb.

It was only a test rotation, but it represented a small beacon of hope for struggling traders below.

This month the 21st and final cabin was fixed to the Melbourne Star observation wheel, bringing to an end one of the final stages of the problem-plagued project.

And it was not the only small positive sign for the inner-city suburb.

On the Harbour Esplanade, the skeleton of a temporary greenhouse-style cafe with an edible garden was taking shape.

After an eight-month planning delay, ‘Hortus’ (Latin for garden) is expected to open in November and begin serving coffee and snacks.

One of the common criticisms of Docklands is that it is overwhelmed with towers and lacks people-friendly attractions at street level.

Christie Petsinis of Folk Architects said one idea behind he cafe was to bring to Docklands a “small-scale” attraction.

“It just takes a little while for the spaces to be filled in so this could be catalyst for small-scale projects,” Ms Petsinis said.

However, in the short-term at least, there is a belief the wheel will be the only real game changer for Docklands.

Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle said for the sake of Docklands’ “fantastic” waterfront restaurants and attractions it was important the Melbourne Star began operating soon. So dire is the situation of traders, who have seen at least one shop close in recent months, the council has frozen rate rises.

While some businesses at Harbour Town, including Chillipadi restaurant, have reported a modest (15 per cent) rise in customers in the past year, others have warned they will have to close if crowds do not increase.

Manager of Gold Leaf restaurant, Frank Yu, said the Asian eatery seated 250 people, but they were only serving 30 to 40 guests during the week and about 100 weekends.

Mr Yu said if the return of the wheel did not lure in at least 150 people a night there would be no point continuing the lease.

Healthy Habits manager Mangi Pereia remembers the magic 40-day period up to January 2009 when the wheel was working.

“There were so many visitors, we opened until 8pm at night. Now we shut at 5pm,” Ms Pereia said.

Just how quickly those days will return is likely to be at the mercy of Docklands’ windy weather, according to a Melbourne Star spokeswoman.

She said workers still needed to complete several jobs, including a clean-up, before the gates open.

“Then there will be the commissioning of the site, which is a fairly lengthy mandatory testing process,” she said.

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