The Gatwick in St Kilda. Photo: Thom Rigney The Gatwick has been a place where troubled people could get a room for decades. Photo: Penny Stephens
Gatwick House on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
Vacant and run down shops on Fitzroy St, St Kilda. Photo: Justin McManus
The infamous Gatwick Hotel in St Kilda has been taken off the market, which will provide a reprieve for about 100 vulnerable residents but is expected to anger long-suffering neighbours and police.
It had been hoped that the sale of the notorious boarding house to a developer would help rejuvenate Fitzroy Street and curb crime in the area, however a year-long campaign has failed to flush out a buyer willing to pay about $11 million.
Co-owner Yvette Kelly confirmed that plans to offload the 64-room hotel had been shelved. She described repeated media reports of an imminent sale as “rubbish”.
“It’s no longer on the market… but like any person, if someone offered us a good price we’d probably take it,” Mrs Kelly told Fairfax Media.
The Gatwick is owned by Mrs Kelly and her sister Rose Banks, who have worked at the boarding house since the early 1970s. Some of the residents have lived there for years, while most stay for short stints.
In December last year, Ms Kelly said Melbourne’s ice scourge and building maintenance costs had prompted them to put the property on the market. She said it was not the tenants causing problems but “people coming in”.
But the venue has been a massive drain on the resources of local police and paramedics, who attend it almost daily.
Some of the more serious incidents reported to police over the past five years include murder, rape, aggravated burglary, firearms offences, stabbings, bashings, and a string of fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses.
In August, undercover police arrested Earl Jones, 29, at the Gatwick over the stabbing murder of Stephen Lowry at another St Kilda rooming house on Little Grey Street. As recently as last Wednesday, more than a dozen police and sheriff’s officers swooped on the private hotel to execute warrants.
Residents of St Kilda West and local traders had hoped the Gatwick’s closure would reverse the declining fortunes of the Fitzroy Street precinct, which has been plagued by crime, falling visitation and an increase in retail vacancy rates.
Fitzroy Street Business Association president Roger Wyndham said it was “bloody disappointing” that the Gatwick would continue to operate.
“There was a lot of excitement among traders that it was finally going to close. It provides a significant obstacle to any revival of that area between Grey Street and the beach end of Fitzroy Street,” Mr Wyndham said.
Last year, the exclusive Mirka restaurant at the Tolarno Hotel was forced to close, despite a $2.4 million renovation by prominent hospitality figure Guy Grossi, who offloaded the ailing business for $200,000.
The Tolarno’s owner, Vincent Cooper said the situation had deteriorated over the past year.
“It’s so violent, there’s yelling and screaming all night long. It’s just hell and it’s getting worse.
“Last week, We had two separate bookings for five nights, but they both cancelled after one night. They just didn’t feel safe and went to the CBD,” said Mr Cooper
The decision to continue operating the Gatwick as a refuge of last resort will provide a significant challenge for the recently elected Port Phillip council, which will need to balance its responsibilities to provide social housing against the amenity concerns of local residents and businesses.
Last year, local MP Martin Foley conceded the retail strip was “at a lower point that I have ever seen it”.
However, Mr Foley, who is housing minister, refused to blame the Gatwick for the problems. He argued that CCTV cameras installed along the length of Fitzroy Street would stop much of the crime.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.