Casualties of the pandemic

Casualties of the pandemic

By Rhonda Dredge

Bikes are huddled together in clumps; the food court is half empty and locals are complaining about congestion.

While other precincts have come out of lockdown with all flags flying, Southgate is attracting complaints.

The food court is up for redevelopment and this, alone, has been causing uncertainty.

Even local workers don’t know which parts will be demolished and they’re the ones who have been keeping the economy going.

“We still don’t know if it’s the food court or the whole building,” said Lindsay Wilkins of Mary Martin Bookshop, who worked through the entire pandemic in the bookshop.

“We haven’t heard anything since June between the two lockdowns.”

In June last year Southbank News reported that ARA Australia would be building a new tower and restaurant complex at Southgate in a grand new vision designed by Fender Katsilidis.

While many were in favour of this rethink of Melbourne’s iconic riverbank, others were left smarting.

Lindsay, for example, wanted to know why her favourite vendor in the food court, Muffin Break, had closed down.

Is it because the new owners of Southgate are phasing out businesses or because of the economic situation during the lockdown?

“They’ve been on a month-by-month basis for a good while,” she said.

Others franchises such as Subway, Salsas Fresh Mex Grill, Big Café and Chatime also appear to be closed.

According to their websites, Chatime has closed down permanently but the others are temporarily suspending their trading.

Anson Cheng at the China Bar said he wanted to re-open.

“It depends on how many people are working in the office,” he said. “Eighty per cent of people [customers] are coming from the offices.”

He said he would go down to Southgate each week to see how many people were walking through.

Some are left wondering why these businesses have suffered, when a new Thai takeaway is about to open.

Empty outdoor dining areas along the riverbank are also causing problems.

Once the symbol of a starry-eyed vision of a city opening back up, they’re now beginning to look shoddy with their tacky, temporary fencing.

One food court customer had to break into an outdoor dining area to find somewhere to lock up his bike.

There are no bike racks at Southgate and the metal fencing is almost totally blocked off by private operators.

“Locals hate the extra seating,” Ms Wilkins said. “It’s already congested enough. We always knew it was only going to be a temporary solution.”

She said the foot traffic had increased since the school holidays and that it was time to re-open the area to the public.

But the extra outdoor dining, according to cafes in the precinct, is here to stay until June 30 and they hope it will be re-instated next year •

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