GPT's new Wollongong Central shopping centre: photos

It has been years in the planning, months in the making and now the opening of GPT’s massive Wollongong Central expansion is just a day away.

The media was given a sneak peek inside the brand new complex ahead of Thursday’s official opening, when up to 40,000 people are expected to cram into the CBD.

Art and symbolic architectural features are prominent in the $200 million, six-level centre, which was designed by Port Kembla-born architect Susanne Pini to reflect Wollongong’s history and landscape.

The 752 steel blades at the main entrance at the corner of Crown and Keira streets evoke the region’s industrial past, while markings on the concrete facade reference the escarpment’s flora and Illawarra flame tree.

Tuesday’s media tour began in the shadows of the striking rust-coloured blades, at the entrance which GPT’s development manager Steven Turner hopes will become a bustling public plaza.

‘‘We call this the southern forecourt, but it’s designed to carve out some public space and provide a welcoming space as well as making it convenient for people to get to our lower ground level,’’ he said.

The lower ground floor is dominated by Coles and other fresh food retailers, and includes nods to the rustic home-cooking that happens in multicultural kitchens throughout the region. The area features bright floor tiles sourced from Spain.

Food and fashion is the focus at ground level, where nine franchise outlets will create an outdoor dining strip along Keira Street. Behind the restaurants is a sporty, youth-targeted fashion level, which includes stores like Glue, Bonds, Billabong, Dollhouse, Hype DC and In Sport.

Upstairs, there’s Target, JB Hi-Fi Home and more fashion stores, and an adaptable, open air food-court filled with modular wooden booths, brightly colour chairs and edible gardens.

The shopping levels are connected by a huge three-storey art work – Velvet Water  by Maria Fernanda Cardoso –  made of more than 40,000 nylon rods,  all flooded with natural light. 

With less than 48 hours until the opening, the site was still an active and sometimes chaotic construction zone, but Mr Turner was adamant ‘‘the magic of retail’’ would see it completed on time.

However, 10 of the 66 tenants – including Max Brenner, Coco Cubano and Guzman Y Gomez – would not have their stores ready and would open within days or weeks, he said.

‘‘That’s the nature of the game, unfortunately,’’ Mr Turner said, saying delays had been caused by conflict in individual stores’  fit-out programs or complex designs.

See Thursday’s Mercury for a souvenir liftout, The Keira Street Story.