It’s the biggest mystery in Australian entertainment, with one of the country’s most popular TV programs in one corner, a notorious crime hot spot in the other and some of the country’s most vulnerable people trapped in the middle.
Since late last year, the Australian television industry has been buzzing with speculation that Nine’s reality renovation juggernaut The Block is to take on its most ambitious project, rebuilding The Gatwick Private Hotel in Melbourne’s St Kilda.
A textbook example of the kind of site The Block targets, the infamous hotel sits on prime real estate in the vibrant beachside suburb and is in desperate need of a makeover.
For decades, the privately operated hotel has been accommodation of last resort to Melbourne’s homeless and is now a magnet for crime.
There are drugs and dealers almost constantly on site, a live stream from 16 cameras in and around the building running to the local police station and officers visiting regularly.
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It is well known to all in the area for crime, with police recording hundreds of offences on the site including at least three murders, one (reported) rape and multiple bashings.
In August last year police raided The Gatwick to arrest an alleged axe-murderer who had taken refuge inside.
Rundown, graffiti-covered and patched-up, the building on Fitzroy Street was last year offered for sale with the price anywhere between $10 and $15 million, then quietly removed from the market, fuelling rumours The Block, long thought to have been interested in the site, had pounced.
This week those rumours went into overdrive again when it was revealed The Gatwick’s owners had issued closure notices to the residents – that’s 41 people according to the Victorian Minister for Housing, but could be up to 100 according to those inside the hotel, where friends and visitors often stop by and end up staying.
Sources at Nine admitted The Gatwick was at one stage being considered for The Block, but said the producers moved on.
In their own news report of the hotel’s imminent demise, the network was quick to state: “[Victorian] state government and Nine network management aren’t commenting on speculation this could be a future site of The Block.”
Similarly the hotel’s owners were adamant nobody had bought anything. Yet.
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But whether Scott Cam and his latest crop of Blockheads are poised to descend or not, what most have missed is that The Gatwick has already become an international reality TV star, the centre of a controversial British television program which went to air in the UK last month.
In the BBC series Reggie Yates: Hidden Australia, a documentary crew investigating the ice epidemic in our country visited The Gatwick to show life inside the hotel as violent and dangerous, with taped-up windows, cracked walls and no shortage of people living there admitting to smoking and dealing ice.
At one point, a resident named “Hoody” is shown having a recent stab wound treated in the hotel bathrooms while a woman smokes ice in the background, blowing the smoke through a cracked Gatwick window into the night.
The series has no Australian broadcaster attached at this stage, but was available to view on YouTube this week.