But in the aftermath of the furore over a developer’s plans to reimagine the former site of the Palace Theatre -  the top end of Bourke St is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance.

New shops are opening. The foot traffic is back. There is a buzz.

And locals say they have the hotel to thank.

Victorian building firm L.U. Simon Builders won Master Builders Victoria’s Builder of the Year for its completion of Le Meridien Melbourne last month.

It features 235 rooms, including executive suites across 12 floors, as well as a restaurant, bar, café, function rooms, a gym and rooftop pool with sweeping views across Parliament and the MCG.

“Every floor pays homage to the history of the building, its use as a theatre, a cinema and nightclub,” senior project manager Dennis L Moschoyiannis says.

“When you walk the floors they have an individual concept and a story to tell, in keeping with the hotel group’s theme of mid-century modernisation.”

But he admits appeasing the critics was never going to be easy.

L.U Simon Builders Le Meridien Melbourne - Master Builder of the -Year Commercial 2023    L.U Simon Builders - Le Meridien Melbourne - Master Builder of the Year - Commercial 2023 - Exterior

L.U Simon builders - Le Meridien Melbourne - Master Builder of the Year - Commercial 2023 - Exterior Entrance    L.U Simon Builders - Le Meridien Melbourne - Master Builder of the Year - Commercial 2023 - Lobby

When developer Jinshan Investment Group set out on its plans to knock down the theatre and replace it with the commercial property, it faced a barrage of complaints.

One Melbourne city councillor said the decision to bring in the wrecking ball was “morally outrageous”.

But after almost three years before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, developers got the nod on the provision it retained the historic façade.

Mr Moschoyiannis says it was just one of the many difficulties the company faced.

“It was complicated build. The access wasn’t great. We were landlocked. We were going very deep and we were right in the middle of the pandemic. Everything about it was difficult.

“But we knew this was a `builders job’ – something that would draw on all our expertise and finally be something we could look back on and be extremely proud.”

He says other complications included building onto the back of neighbouring infrastructure - older buildings like The Princess Theatre on Spring St - and drilling so deep they had to contract a mining company for the use of conveyor belts to remove soil and rock.

“To dig 12m underground required specific rigs, equipment and even a mining conveyor belt to remove over 5000 trucks-worth of material through the city.

"This was trammelled by a landlocked building, a heritage façade, public protection orders, neighbouring outdoor dining, one-way traffic and a busy tram network - not to mention over 120 protests at nearby Parliament House and impromptu city closures during construction."

Despite the setbacks, Mr Moschoyiannis says the hotel stood as an extraordinary credit to everybody who worked on it.

The firm commenced construction in November 2020, between Melbourne’s second and third lockdown and completed the build in October 2022, a year after the city’s sixth lockdown – handing over the project three weeks before its scheduled delivery.  

  “We also like to acknowledge our key design consultants, Peddle Thorp, JBA, Northrop and Marriott Design. This job would not have been a success without a devoted team providing not only professional but also practical services from start to finish," Mr Moschoyiannis says.

“It’s hard to explain but it’s almost like we are custodians.

“To look back at an iconic building like this and to say I was involved in building that – to me that is reward.”

Tennis Australia is among the corporates already signed up for functions, buoying local hospitality.  A five-star two-storey restaurant is also being built across the road.

“At the end of the day, the critics of the project were fond of the memories of the original venue not necessarily the building itself,” Mr Moschoyiannis says.  “This is still a place for gathering - it’s just in a different capacity.”

Le Meridien Melbourne general manager Peter Minatsis credits the builders for reenergising the area.  

“The team at L.U Builders hasn’t just established one of the city’s most popular high-end hotels – they have also helped breathe new life into the top end of Bourke St.

“Since we opened our doors we have seen a renewed enthusiasm from local shop owners as people return to an area of the city that has not received the attention it deserves in recent years.

“There is a feeling of renewal, particularly after the impact of the pandemic on the CBD but we are excited to see the streetscape evolve with Le Meridien Melbourne as its centrepiece.”