Wheel's misfortune continues, and traders are not happy

Retailers at Harbour Town shopping centre in Docklands are frustrated and upset, with no end in sight to delays on the centre's drawcard Southern Star Observation Wheel.

One major trader called it a disaster, saying he was "fed up" that it looked like the giant wheel would go well past the four-year mark since its dismantling.

The $100 million wheel opened in December 2008, before it developed cracks and closed 40 days later.

In August this year the Southern Star Group, the wheel's owners, were reported as saying the wheel could open as early as January 2013 — if there were perfect weather conditions.

But Southern Star spokesman Ken Davis told The Age the term "perfect weather" was meant as an extreme scenario, "with no wind, no rain for the next four months".

He said this was unrealistic in Melbourne, "a city renowned for extremely windy springs and rain that washes out the first cricket matches".

He said 70 per cent of available construction time was being lost per week because cranes and lifts on the site can't operate in bad weather.

Several retailers told The Age the new rumoured opening benchmark is Easter but Mr Davis said "due to the complexity of the construction process, we are not in a position to make any announcements regarding a 2013 opening date".

Mr Davis said installation of the seventh and final rim of the wheel's outer ring was scheduled for later this month, "subject to Melbourne's weather".

Work would then start on welding of the drive rail around the outer rim, removal of temporary yellow steel trusses and then installation of the cabins.

An opening timeline would be announced when cabins started being installed.

In Thursday's warm weather, entire corridors of the outdoor Harbour Town mall were deserted. One ice-cream shop was shut; another was struggling for customers.

John Dimos, whose Groove Train Cafe, facing the wheel, was empty at lunchtime, despite it being school holidays, spoke out for the first time, out of anger.

"My anger at the whole thing is simple," he said. "To have so many livelihoods so affected by something like that is ridiculous."

Mr Dimos doesn't want to discuss politics, finance or industrial matters; he wants it fixed. "To go on for years, it's an absolute joke. It was quicker to build the Eiffel Tower," he said.

"It's way too long for one of the most beautiful attractions. An absolute disaster."

"It's hurt us. I'm fed up. I want it to end." He said it was too long for businesses not to be making money and if it went on for another year there were doubts his business could remain.

Chris Kalpis, manager of TunzaFun amusement centre, also near the wheel, believes on a school holiday weekday the wheel being open would have doubled patronage at his store.

He said most of his customers on Thursday were there due to an online discount coupon promotion.

After the buckling, he expected the wheel to reopen within six months to a year. "Not three years down the track."

"It's frustrating I'll tell you what," Mr Kalpis said. "Three years. I'm upset. Because it's gone backwards rather than forwards."

He reckoned "half the traders have left ... clothing stores, a record store, a sushi shop that only opened three months".

Many survived only due to discounted rents. "It's pretty sad, I think. They built skyscrapers around here in less time it's taken to get the wheel going.

"The progress here (in Docklands) is unbelievable compared to this thing," he said, gesturing at the wheel. "It's like, a section every few months. It's ridiculous."

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