Illawarra shoppers will get a first glimpse of the new Stockland Shellharbour shopping mall today when Kmart, Coles and 43 specialty stores open their doors.
When complete, the new development will effectively double the size of the centre and create the only major regional shopping mall between Miranda, Campbelltown and Canberra.
Half of the new stores are clothing outlets, which is expected to enhance Stockland's reputation as a fashion hub.
Stockland says the first retail stage of its $300 million development will help reduce $1.2 billion in annual escape spending from the region.
Research showed 85 per cent of existing shoppers and 65 per cent of other residents wanted an expanded fashion offer.
Shellharbour Mayor Kellie Marsh will officially open the new Kmart at 9am and take part in a fashion parade.
The Coles supermarket and 43 speciality stores - 30 of which are new names to Shellharbour - are opening 10 weeks ahead of time.
Centre manager Brett Leonard said the new two-level mall would reach 52 per cent occupancy this week, be 80 per cent full by July and at capacity by Christmas when close to 3500 free car spaces would be available and a new Woolworths was expected to open.
Stockland development manager Tim Beattie said it was unusual to be so far ahead of schedule and gave credit to Brookfield Multiplex and 40 Illawarra firms involved in the construction project that has employed 700 people.
Large wind turbines on the top-level car park, a co-gen plant and 7000sqm of solar panels would supply 34 per cent of the total shopping centre's energy needs and 70 per cent of the power for the new mall, Mr Beattie said.
"It will be one of the biggest installations of solar panels in any retail centre," he said.
Kmart store manager Julie Anset said today would be a double celebration because it marked the company's 30th anniversary in Shellharbour.
"We are anticipating we will have good trade here," she said.
"We have a lot more in the way of clothing and our children's area has really opened up."
Hairhouse Warehouse franchisee Lube Markovksi has already employed seven people and expects that number to grow to 10.
Mr Leonard said 800 new car parking spaces would be available today and the number of food and coffee outlets had also increased.
When the new Myer opened in mid-2013, the total number of retail employees would have grown from 750 to 1500, he said.