What value will the Melbourne Observation Wheel bring if it is to spin again?

What value will the Melbourne Observation Wheel bring if it is to spin again?
Brendan Rees

The future of the iconic Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in Docklands continues to hang in the balance as liquidators’ efforts to sell it remain to be closely watched.

But while there is still hope a buyer may emerge – with administrator Grant Thornton confirming in January that it was working with an “interested party” – questions, however, have been raised about its viability as a long-term investment and how it can attract visitors if it was to turn again.

The 120-metre-tall waterfront wheel, situated next to the District Docklands shopping centre, closed in 2021 when its operating company MB Star Properties Pty Ltd went into liquidation.

It first opened in 2008 and has long been a prominent landmark, but before its closure, it had a history of mechanical issues and struggling visitor numbers, and with uncertainty surrounding its future profitability, it would appear any potential investor would have to make a significant financial commitment.

While a price tag for the observation wheel is unknown, the towering structure cost an estimated $100 million to build.

The Victoria Tourism Industry Council’s chief operating officer Chris Porter told Docklands News that it was hoped the observation wheel would be relaunched, saying it had the potential to be reimagined as an exciting attraction.

“We’re very supportive of the wheel finding a new owner and someone taking over the responsibility for it to bring it back to life,” he said.

Mr Porter said the wheel could breathe new life into Docklands and “add to the mix of attractions in Melbourne” but added a revamped model must improve the overall visitor experience and encourage people to explore the Docklands precinct further.

“How do they encompass that whole Docklands precinct as well and reinvigorate that whole area? It does overlook Cosco and Docklands, but it does provide a different perspective for Melbourne even for locals,” he said.

“I think it comes down to how are you going to activate not just the Star but the whole destination as a whole. How do they make that experience more enlightening or engaging? I think it would all help benefit The District Docklands experience.”

It’s probably not living its best life at the moment. Hopefully someone does see the value in it and gets the lights turned back on and gets it spinning again.

A statement issued by Liquidator Grant Thornton said: “The interested party is undertaking ongoing due diligence and their intention to proceed remains”.

“Upon completion of this they will determine whether they wish to progress to a purchase of the assets.”

As previously reported by Docklands News in 2022, there had been various parties who have expressed interest in the sale and that “there are all sorts of options on the table”.

The Docklands Representative Group (DRG) acknowledged the wheel had been problematic since its initial opening but said “the real question for Docklands is: what value it brings?”

“While many locals love to see the colourful night-time display, its ability to serve visitors as a viable attraction is questionable,” the DRG said.

“The rationale of having the Star in Docklands is that it would draw visitors to the area. However, this hasn’t transpired and rather than being a drawcard with benefits flowing to other retailers, the Star has become a source of negativity, attracting more criticism than tourists.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the City of Melbourne would love to see the Observation Wheel “back in action” and “enhancing the Docklands vibe, attracting more visitors and boosting business for local traders”.

“We’re doing what counts for Docklands – from greening the promenade to creating new spaces to bring people together for major events like the Firelight Festival and New Year’s Eve,” she said.

The Docklands Chamber of Commerce has been contacted for comment.

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