The first stage of Crown Street Mall's multi-million dollar revamp began last night as work crews moved in to remove trees near the iconic Church Street chessboard.
Waiting until most shoppers had left the area, Wollongong City Council workers arrived about 5pm to ensure the work would have as little impact on retailers as possible.
The trees, chessboard and adjacent seating will be the first parts of the old mall to go because the space will be used as a site office and equipment store.
A new chessboard is part of the plans for the renovated retail strip.
The cost of refurbishing the mall has skyrocketed to $19.4 million after a series of changes to the original proposal pushed the final figure up from an earlier estimated figure of $14.9 million.
Updated costs include project management expenses; installing Wi-Fi in the mall; and shift allowances for night-time workers. The work is expected to take two years.