Wollongong City Council has finally found a replacement tenant to take up the Southern Gateway Centre space left vacant after the troubled Jumbulla Aboriginal Discovery Centre closed 18 months ago.
The Mercury can reveal Gelato Ingredients Manufacturers of Australia (GIMA), has signed a 10-year lease on the Bulli Tops site, ending months of speculation that the picturesque spot might be rented to a fast food chain, be turned into a petrol station or become another museum.
The boutique gelato maker, which is based at Molong in the state's central west, is expected to transform the empty gateway space into an ice cream-lovers' paradise that will showcase the complete gelato-making process.
Though GIMA's $60,000-a-year lease on the site still needs to be ratified by the council, several councillors who spoke to the Mercury yesterday said they supported the proposal, which includes a nine month rent-free period.
It is understood that pre-development application meetings between council staff and the company have been held.
Wollongong councillor and Destination Wollongong board member Leigh Colacino yesterday described the appointment as "the perfect product in the perfect place".
"This will appeal to a broad spectrum of visitors and locals - I mean, who doesn't love gelato?" he said.
"It complements the existing Altitude 1148 restaurant and the information centre, but it will also act as a tourist destination in its own right."
Cr Colacino dismissed concerns the business was too seasonal.
The gateway centre, which opened in September 2009 with a construction price tag of $11 million, has experienced its fair share of controversy including a cost blow-out, access problems, fluctuating visitor numbers and trouble finding a replacement tenant after Jumbulla's closure last February.
However, Cr Colacino said he hoped GIMA's lease on the site, which is a product of the council's recent Advantage Wollongong business night at NSW Parliament, could signal a turnaround.
"This company has the right ingredients to serve Wollongong," he said.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery also indicated his support, saying GIMA's Molong operations were popular among tourists.
"This is about having a point-of-difference type operation at the gateway centre," he said.
"The proposal will also allow them [the owners] access to a certain area outside for outdoor seating."
Cr Bradbery anticipated a development application would be lodged almost immediately if the council approved the lease.