Indian Mehfil owner Raj Sharma.
Indian Mehfil owner Raj Sharma. Rob Williams

Businessman addresses rumours he will run for mayor

RESTAURATEUR Rajesh Sharma is a staunch optimist but he admits he is "frightened” for the future of city businesses amidst the ongoing CBD redevelopment.

The Indian Mehfil owner said things are only getting worse with a dramatic downturn in foot traffic and his own business had never been at such a low point as it is right now.

Works on the major part of the CBD development began last week with Hutchinson Builders officially getting started on the $140 million contract to revitalise the city centre.

The number of CBD businesses that have closed their doors has piled up in recent months and Mr Sharma said he had experienced between a 30-40 per cent drop in revenue since the mall closed up.

While he was pleased to see construction of a civic plaza, library and Ipswich City Council administration building begin, he stressed some businesses would not be able to hang on while it was completed.

The cafe he also owns in town will drop down to four days a week from next week and he is considering reducing hours at Indian Mehfil as well.

He said without walk in traffic "the model can't survive” and staff at the Ipswich restaurant are being given shifts at his Brisbane eateries to reduce the load.

"I'm worried now,” he said.

"I'm really worried and getting to the point where I want to know how much bleeding has to happen. It's very hard. Some nights are a ghost town.

"Whoever I have spoken to whether it's the top of town, middle of town or bottom of town, nobody is flourishing. Some days we're doing $200, how can you survive?”

In the midst of the turmoil, Mr Sharma has been inundated with customers and friends asking him whether he will be the next person to throw their hat into the Ipswich City Council mayoral race ahead of the election in March.

Mr Sharma said he did not understand where the rumour had started but wanted to draw a line through the idea of running for office.

His focus is his restaurant and he said business owners were being let down by a lack of consultation with council about what needed to happen to get them through.

"We don't have a representative,” he said.

"We can't speak to anyone at the moment to ask for something or some kind of help or some kind of marketing campaign other than (the media).

"We can't talk to anyone in council. (Council needs) to speak to these remaining businesses that are left on how they can work together collectively, whether it be about the car parking problem or a marketing campaign.

"I think a lot of us are very frustrated that we don't have anybody to speak to properly and we are getting no help. There needs to be more initiatives from council to support remaining businesses so they can last another two years.”

An Ipswich City Council spokesperson said Indian Mehfil was involved with council's 'tradie pack' initiative, which is designed to draw tradies working on site of the redevelopment, into CBD businesses via a lunch deal.

The spokesperson said business owners in the top of town precinct had been invited to briefings on the redevelopment and council provides the restraurant with all Food Fair collateral each year for the annual Diwali Festival at no cost.