Mall revamp ready to go

The $19.4 million refurbishment of Wollongong's Crown Street Mall is set to begin in a matter of days.

Wollongong City Council this evening signed off on the final series of outstanding tenders, paving the way for work to begin later this week in preparing the site for the demolition of the amphitheatre, steel arches and Church Street structures.

Under the refurbishment plans, the mall will be stripped of its clutter and have new seating, trees and paving installed.

Ratepayers had been given multiple estimates of the project's estimated cost since it was first flagged in 2008. 

The most recent and long-standing figure was $14.9 million, however the council revealed late last Friday the fully-costed budget was now $19.4 million on the back of the finalising the $11.5 million main construction contract.

Councillors will also be required to allocate an additional $4.4 million towards the project in the next two council budgets to fund the project.

Despite the higher price tag, several councillors who spoke at this evening's meeting rejected media suggestions that the increase constituted ‘‘a costs blowout’’.

‘‘We [the council] budgeted for $15 million and we received $4.4 million from the Federal Government,’’ Labor's David Brown said.

‘‘There's no skyrockets [in price], no budget blowouts.’’Greens councillor George Takacs said the $20 million cost of the mall revamp equated to a spend of between 3 and 4 cents per ratepayer, per day, when spread over the expected 25-year life of the refurbishment.

‘‘It's an investment in our city, it's not a cost as far as I'm concerned,’’ he said.

Labor's Ann Martin agreed, saying for the city to realise its full potential the council ‘‘needed to invest in [its] future’’.

‘‘We need to invest in good urban design to move us from being a slightly rough diamond to being ‘the’ diamond,’’ she said.

Independent councillor Vicki Curran was the only dissenting voice, urging others to temporarily shelve the refurbishment so the design could be reconsidered.

She said the council could not afford to allocate an additional $4.4 million to the project during the next two years given its current financial position and the numerous other capital works and services competing for the money.

‘‘I disagree,’’ she said in reply to Cr Brown's view that the cost was not a blow out.

‘‘I think they [the costs] have exploded.’’Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery pointed out that the original $7.6 million cost of installing the mall in 1986 was the equivalent of $17 million in today's figures.

‘‘We have scrutinised and gone over this time and time again,’’ he said.

‘‘We are within the cost range - it's not a blowout.

‘‘We have gone out of our way to extend the construction hours so we won't disrupt retailers.

‘‘Basically councillors, I just want to get on with it now.’’

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