Chessboard moving out of Crown St Mall

Wollongong City Council has revealed the days of playing chess in the Crown Street Mall are numbered as final plans for the $14 million makeover of the ageing precinct take shape.

Tender documents for work in the mall show the much-loved giant chessboard and seating in Church Street will be the first casualties of a plan to demolish several permanent structures to make the space more open.

While the documents do not give a start date for the works, the council has said demolition work will begin in February.

MORE: In defence of $500k mall artwork

The amphitheatre and steel archways, fondly known as the "bird cage", are also on the demolition hit-list under stages two and three.

The move gives the mall's chess players, the majority of whom are retired men, less than three months left at a site their extended group has occupied for 25 years.

While players who spoke to the Mercury yesterday said the council had promised to set up a new giant board, possibly in MacCabe Park, they lamented the loss of the spot where many had spent years honing their chess skills.

Oscar Murtzan, 73, took on the role of "caretaker" of the oversized plastic figures used on the giant chess board about 20 years ago, travelling into Wollongong from his West Dapto home three to four times a week to play with his mates.

He said most players wanted to stay at the mall site - "it's closer to the coffee" - but were resigned to leaving.

"What can you do?" he said.

"Maybe we can come back when it's finished."

Mr Murtzan said the group had not been told when the new space might be ready, so did not know whether there would be a gap between their last day in the mall and when they could play again.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery confirmed the council had spoken with the chess players and that staff were working on finding an alternative site for the group.

"We've narrowed it down to an area in Globe Lane, behind the Diggers Club, or the northern end of MacCabe Park as a second option," Cr Bradbery said.

"We have to move them [the players] because we need that area as an access point to the mall.

"We are, however, very conscious of their needs and will do our best to give them a suitable place to continue playing in the interim."

The council has also revealed plans to abandon the proposed children's water play area in front of the Church on the Mall.

Plans for the feature, which included spouts shooting bursts of water into the air, were panned after parents chided the council for lack of change room facilities nearby. Others raised concerns over the impact on brides getting married at the church, and the potential for people to slip on the wet ground.

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