Grand plans revealed for new home for Star as parties move closer to clinching sale

Grand plans revealed for new home for Star as parties move closer to clinching sale
Brendan Rees

Multiple Australian groups have thrown their hats in the ring to snap up the iconic Melbourne Star Observation Wheel – along with bold plans seeking to create a new home for the tourist attraction.

The 120-metre tall ferris wheel on the waterfront could turn again after having permanently shut down last September when the wheel’s operating company MB Star Properties Pty Ltd went into liquidation.

But hopes are building that a rescue buyer could be found after administrator Andrew Hewitt of Grant Thornton said “a number of parties” based in Australia had entered into non-disclosure agreements.

He said while the Christmas break had “slowed things down a bit”, the sale of the giant observation wheel was “progressing”.

“I don’t really think we’re going to be re-engaging on it until the next couple of weeks,” he said in late January with an outcome not likely to be known until March.

Asked if he was confident of a buyer emerging, Mr Hewitt said, “It’s early to say. Each one of the groups that we’ve got are sort of thinking about different things with it, so how that will finalise out I’m really not sure.”

Mr Hewitt said his firm would investigate whether MB Star Properties Pty Ltd traded while insolvent but didn’t believe it was “going to be an issue” as the company was being supported by a holding company during the time it had shut down and paid out its employees.

“It was being supported by its overseas holding company or shareholder so I don’t expect that’s going to be a large avenue of enquiry because it certainly seemed to me that only a handful of unsecured creditors were left over, which were really just what you would call trade-type suppliers, and this won’t account back to the holding company.”

The finalisation of the sale process comes as leading architect firm Bates Smart recently pitched a bold plan to move the observation wheel to the Yarra River’s edge in what it described as a “golden opportunity”.

Under its vision, Bates Smart – which was behind the major architectural designs of Federation Square, the Royal Children’s Hospital and Crown Metropol – the train lines between Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station would be buried to accommodate a green space for events, such as night markets and cultural activations.

Bates Smart director Julian Anderson said the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel could be relocated to the park which would be a “more accessible from downtown and could enjoy a more prominent position on the skyline”.

He said the riders could enjoy more scenic views of the city and the Yarra as well as “help boost its performance as a genuine attraction that Melbourne has on offer.”

“The northern side of the Yarra has been neglected and become an eyesore of Melbourne,” he said. “Burying these train lines would connect the city to the Yarra River and complement the City of Melbourne’s $300 million Greenline plans – a proposal set to transform the area surrounding Birrarung Marr and Collins Wharf, forever changing the fabric of the city.”

Mr Anderson added the Melbourne Aquarium would also be better relocated to Docklands, with the whole project estimated to cost in the billions, however, he added there would be “an opportunity to contribute to the costs of this project through value capture”.

“The value of the land within a 200-metre radius of the park would be significantly increased if this park were introduced, and so future development could contribute to cost recovery.”

Mr Anderson said the proposed project would also recognise the “great historic significance” of the site as the Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung First Nation’s people used the river as a fishing point and crossing point.

“Early European arrivals also settled nearby at the ‘Falls,’ which is opposite today’s Market St,” he said.

He added the proposed new park could also “help to buffer some of the climate change impacts that we know will occur if we don’t act now to design Melbourne as a climate resilient city.”

According to a Bates Smart survey in November 2020, remote working had shifted attitudes with 70 per cent of respondents aspiring for more parks and visibly greener buildings in the city.

Docklands Chamber of Commerce executive officer, Shane Wylie, said while it would be sad to see the Melbourne Star attraction leave Docklands “we can obviously see the rewards for greater Melbourne in such a move.”

“We’d far rather see an option like that for Melbourne utilising an incredible piece of infrastructure than for it to simply disappear,” he said.

Mr Wylie said his group also supported the idea to move the Melbourne Aquarium to Docklands with potential for it to “expand and become a stand-alone feature of the water precinct.”

“We’d certainly be supportive of any long-term attraction moving to Docklands and if those powers that be and the potential financial backers see a worthy trade of sorts then we’d welcome the discussions to become public.”

CBD residents group EastEnders president Dr Stan Capp said moving the observation wheel would be “vastly superior to the Docklands location but its reliability, cost and speed of the experience are key variables.”

“Whether they add to the architectural merit of the city is arguable,” he said.

“I do like the greening of the area across the rail yards and the development of the north bank and encouraging a range of uses,” he said, but added the cost would “require intense scrutiny” by the state government.

Residents 3000 president Rafael Camillo said any measure to create open space and attract visitors to the city “is always welcome” •

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