Wheel's reopening at least six months away

The Southern Star ferris wheel at Harbour Town was stripped down and is being rebuilt piece by piece.
The Southern Star ferris wheel at Harbour Town was stripped down and is being rebuilt piece by piece.

THE Southern Star Observation Wheel at Docklands won't open until the second half of 2013, say its owners, as retailers stressed by four years of the giant tourist ride's non-operation vowed to hold on for dear life.

The wheel's owners, investment company ING, have been reluctant to give estimated finish times since the wheel was closed in January 2009.

It had operated for just 40 days before being shut down due to cracks being found in its frame. It was stripped down and is being rebuilt piece by piece, paid for by insurance.

Retailers at Harbour Town flanking the Wheel told The Age in October they had heard the wheel would open around Easter. But ING has long stopped giving public estimates due to continual setbacks.

On Tuesday an anonymous caller to the 3AW breakfast program said the new opening was set for June.

However Ken Davis, representing ING, said a June opening "would appear optimistic" and the wheel would open in the "second half of 2013".

John Dimos, owner of the Groove Train Cafe that faces the Wheel said he chooses to see the news as a "small light at the end of the tunnel" after years of frustration.

He had stuck it out due to staff loyalty, slashing costs and opening hours, and patience.

"Any delays obviously causes grief and pain as everybody else. I'm watching businesses closing up all the time," Mr Dimos said.

"But I'm going to keep it going. I'll be damned if I'm going to shut my doors. I'm going to keep them open and absolutely make sure that we thrive when this thing comes back.

"Knock me down seven times I'll get up eight, and be the last one standing if I have to.

"I guess it's looking more leaning towards the positive side than negative, the worst is behind us, and I for the sake of my own health, I need to be able to manage my own anxiety and believe me after three or four years it's really hard to sometimes.

"I think I'm just tired after three or four years of yelling and screaming because it causes ill effects on your health."

Mr Davis says Melbourne's weather is largely to blame for the delays. "The construction of the Southern Star is heavily influenced by Melbourne's weather including wind and rain," he said. "This makes it extremely difficult to make any announcements regarding an opening timeline."

He said there would be a milestone in construction on Wednesday when the removal of temporary yellow steel trussing, or support scaffolding, will start.

This would be followed by cabin installation and extensive tests.

One retailer said she no longer trusted rumours or memos from shopping centre management that the wheel could be open by certain dates, for example New Year's Day 2013. "In the two years I've been here they keep saying a date or a suspected day but it just doesn't happen. So I really don't mind, I'm here for the business, not for the wheel."

Deep Rajvanshi, supervisor at Nando's restaurant opposite the wheel said late 2013 seemed plausible and it jelled with what workers were saying, but "we can't say, we just have to wait. Just hang on."

This story Wheel's reopening at least six months away first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.