Blue Fire closed for renovation. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Fifteen restaurants at Melbourne's Docklands - or 40 per cent - have closed their doors in the past 10 months, leaving residents devoid of dining options and the remaining restaurateurs fearing for their own survival.
Restaurants believed to have shut up shop include NewQuay stalwarts LiveBait and Mecca Bah, owned by restaurateur Lou Jovanovski, who at one time had half a dozen restaurants in the precinct. Mr Jovanovski pointed to overpriced rents and unfulfilled promises, as well as a lack of marketing for his pulling out of the precinct after seven years.
''It's a bloody disaster down there. It's a total ghost town.''
Mecca Bah and Livebait, closed at NewQuay. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Mr Jovanovski claims to have lost more than $10 million in his bid to continue to attract diners to the area.
''The developers sold us a dream all those years ago and after everyone signed up they forgot about it,'' he said.
Mr Jovanovski pointed to the severely delayed Southern Star Wheel and an under-subscription of retailers at the Harbour Town Shopping Centre as examples of developers allegedly over-promising and under-delivering.
Tough times: Misha's pizza, pasta and salad restaurant. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Acelya Sal, who runs NewQuay Turkish restaurant, Achelya, with her father Ali, says dining in the Docklands is all but dead. NewQuay has been worst hit, with seven restaurant closures, including Shiraaz, Mischa's Pizza and Bluefire Churrascaria Grill.
''Anyone down here will tell you that business is just not happening. As more restaurants shut, people have even less reason to come here.''
Ms Sal believes a lack of marketing is to blame. ''Four years ago we almost couldn't handle how busy it was. It was being marketed as a prestigious destination. Now there's nothing and we're like 'c'mon where is everyone?'''
Docklands resident Komil Pardhan says he rarely eats in the Docklands because of the ever-diminishing options. ''The restaurants that I did like have closed down. I usually eat or get takeaway in the city now because there's so much more to choose from.''
Anita Donnelly, the newly appointed CEO of the precinct's marketing body, Destination Docklands, said the recent restaurant closures were disappointing.
But she believes renewed funding, mostly from the City of Melbourne and Places Victoria, meant it could now boost its marketing activity.
''For the past two years it [the marketing] hasn't been good enough, but since this extra funding there is a lot more we can do. ''
A spokeswoman for the City of Melbourne said a quarter of its annual marketing budget went to promoting Docklands.