For Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba, the Shellharbour City Hub project is about the city "coming of age".
"I have watched Shellharbour City grow from being a handful of villages linked by cow paddocks," Cr Saliba said. "We need a place of prominence that is home to our arts, culture and history, our library and community spirit."
Questions have been raised about the hub's $57 million price tag.
"If you break it down and look at different projects, and try to build them individually it would cost a lot more," Cr Saliba said.
"I see there are a lot of benefits now and into the future, people don't realise the responsibility we have to the city moving forward. If councils of the past stopped all projects and started fresh each time there was an election, we'd still be living in the stone age."
Councillor Peter Moran has been consistent in his opposition to the hub.
"It is a proposal that centralises various services throughout the city," Cr Moran said.
"By doing so it diminishes the various villages that make up the local government area.
"They don't care that Albion Park is losing its museum; we could build a new museum there.
"They say we are getting a new central library, but we have a central one at Warilla.
"Doing it in a less centralised way means we could fund these projects as funding becomes available.
"By building it all at once we need to sell all the assets now; it means we need a big loan now.
"But the main reason I oppose this is that it has never gone out to public consultation."
However, some in the Labor Party say the issue has become a partisan one with the opposition to the project being fuelled by the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2015 state election.
Kiama's Liberal MP Gareth Ward has publicly expressed his opposition to the hub, "due to a lack of consultation and the degree of debt which will be imposed on residents and ratepayers".
Earlier this year, Shellharbour Deputy Mayor Paul Rankin, who quit the Liberal Party in acrimonious circumstances, revealed two "community" meetings held to discuss the hub had their insurance covered by the NSW Liberal Party.
At the same time, Shellharbour's Labor MP Anna Watson points to Liberal councillor Kellie Marsh's change in stance as evidence that the opposition to the project was political.
In an April 2012 media release from Shellharbour City Council, Cr Marsh, who was mayor at the time, described the hub as "an exciting project".
"This development will form the heart of our city centre and it is vital that we create a complex that will meet the needs of our community now and into the future," she said in the release.
Cr Marsh said this week that at the time of the release, the council was still in its first year and it was the first she'd heard of the project.
"I was rapt to get it on the table but at the time I didn't know what it would encompass, such as the asset sales, selling the old council chambers," she said. "I always felt there was a need for a museum and potentially an auditorium. The library is a contentious issue as I didn't want to see a central library come at the misfortune of other services such as the Warilla Library and Shellharbour, which is exactly what will happen.
"The fact is we can't afford the hub at this point in time; we have a $45 million backlog in infrastructure which should be our priority and borrowing money for the hub will limit our capacity to borrow for other things."
Hubbub over hub’s ‘excessive’ rooms
Spending money on a new library and museum may sound like a positive move for a community.
But the Stop the Hub group says these facilities are just a sweetener for a building that will be 71per cent for council staff and councillors.
Group convener Diane Quinlin said the hub would contain 18 meeting rooms, 10 quiet rooms and five directors’ offices (rather than the present three), a recreation room, retreat room, and suites for the mayor and general manager each the size of a one-bedroom apartment with bathroom and shower facilities.
Between these suites is an executive terrace with an adjacent executive kitchen, plus three other kitchens, staff terrace with built-in barbecue facilities and communal dining.
Ms Quinlin said the plan showed there would also be six tea facility areas covering 126 square metres, a dining room, the 350-seat auditorium would be ‘‘principally for staff’’ with allowance for only 11 car spaces.
The Stop the Hub group collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition opposing the City Hub.
‘‘I think this will be excessive, lavish and opulent compared to other council areas,’’ Ms Quinlin said.
A council spokeswoman said of the 18 meeting rooms, there were nine staff meeting rooms and eight public meeting rooms.
The public meeting rooms included five sessional/professional service office spaces and three customer service meeting rooms to discuss private matters including burials, grievances with neighbours, land disputes and one training room also available for public use, which included computer facilities.
The spokeswoman also said claims the auditorium would allow for only 11 public car spaces were incorrect.
‘‘There are 70 spaces on the lowest parking level which will be used by staff during business hours, with the 100 spaces on the second level available for the general public.’’
The executive terrace from the general manager and mayor’s office had now been removed to provide more room for staff office space on this level.
In regard to ‘‘quiet rooms’’, the spokeswoman said the transfer from office spaces at Lamerton House to a more collaborative work space involved the majority of staff working in an open plan environment and small rooms had been incorporated to provide the opportunity for privacy when required.
‘‘The quiet rooms accommodate two staff to discuss confidential matters and communicate sensitive information to residents in private.
‘‘The retreat room is made available for cultural purposes, to provide a prayer room and accommodate the religious practices of staff ...’’
* THE project known as the Shellharbour City Hub will provide a civic square for public events, council chambers and council administration offices, and on-site parking. It is also proposed to include a new library, museum, auditorium, meeting rooms, administration offices and associated landscaping.
* The site earmarked for the hub is on the corner of College and Cygnet avenues, Shellharbour City Centre, just across from Stockland Shellharbour.
* Shellharbour City Council says with Shellharbour’s population set to grow to more than 79,000 by 2031, the City Hub ‘‘will help ensure Shellharbour has the facilities it needs now and into the future’’.
* The development application for the hub will be determined by the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel. The JRPP will host ‘‘a public briefing meeting’’ on the Shellharbour City Hub in response to the large number of submissions received on the controversial development at 4pm on Thursday, August 28, in the Tasman Room at the Shellharbour Club.
* Plans for the hub attracted 87 submissions during the development’s public exhibition process in June and July.