More than a billion dollars worth of buildings and 2500 new people could radically transform Wollongong.
And it could happen sooner than you think.
Over the past year, the CBD has become construction central, with vast blocks levelled and noisy jackhammers dominating the city's streets.
Just last week, a two-tower, $38-million complex for the long-dormant Oxford Tavern site was given the final tick of approval - but as you scan the city centre, it's clear there's plenty of work already transforming our city.
According to a Mercury analysis of planned development in the urban wedge between Flinders Street, the coast and Wollongong Hospital, developers are set to pour at least $1 billion into the city over the next few years.
Already, planned investment for the area is $791.5 million and with two massive projects - the Bass and Flinders Gateway and former Dwyers site - not yet budgeted for, the total will easily edge over the $1 billion mark.
One of the areas that will change dramatically will be the city's northern entry along Flinders Street.
For years a mishmash of car yards, factories and outlet stores, the stretch of road has offered a poor welcome to the city.
But the drab CBD outskirts could soon get a much-needed facelift, with three major sites flagged for development.
The Bass and Flinders Gateway project is still in the early planning stages but developers have pitched it as Wollongong's Covent Garden, with sleek towers built to mimic the Illawarra escarpment rising up around semi-private courtyards and bustling restaurants.
Leading the boom is GPT's Wollongong Central $200-million expansion - a shopping mall 10 years in the making and finally just months from completion.
Elsewhere, grand visions of skyscrapers called Gravity and Quattro - names that went from symbols of prosperity to hallmarks of an era we'd rather forget - have been replaced with carefully planned designs to energise the city.
Past plans for Regency Tower, to be Wollongong's tallest building atop its highest hill, have also been revived and are under assessment by the city council.
To the east, Cliff Road's status as millionaires' row will be cemented as The Esplanade rises from the street's final vacant lot, 14 years after the Villa Maria Nursing Home was razed.
A short stroll down the road towards the city, the crumbling shell of the Oxford Tavern and overgrown former Dwyers site have finally found some love in the arms of out-of-town developers.
While it's not yet known how the new Dwyers owners will revive the scruffy patch of grass and council car park where Belmorgan once planned to install cinemas, shops and offices, development trends make it almost certain to become a "shop-top" complex combining residential apartments with commercial space.
Apartments are also rising up on the west side of the city: in three months, four gleaming towers will adorn the former Dairy Farmers factory site in Gladstone Avenue, housing hundreds of people.
These developments are likely to attract at least 2500 new residents, all needing shops, healthcare and other facilities.
Work on a brand new public and private medical precinct at the city's edge is well under way and, as the public hospital expands and Wollongong Private Hospital pops up next door, there will be hundreds of new beds and parking spaces to cut waiting lists and keep patients in this growing city from having to travel to Sydney for high-tech operations.
In a recent Property Council poll, Wollongong residents ranked the design of their urban centre last out of 10 major centres in Australia.
The city has also long been marred by rising unemployment and housing shortages, which are far from solved.
But if all these plans come to fruition, there could be a very different town standing tall in the next few years.
At least 2500 new residents are set to flood Wollongong in the coming years, as eager developers create a mini CBD housing boom.
Of the 16 development plans analysed by the Mercury, 11 were for residential or mixed-use buildings to meet the growing demand for inner-city housing.
This means more than 1200 new apartments could be for sale in the near future.
Illawarra Real Estate Institute chairman Trever Molenaar has noticed the influx of new city housing plans.
He said developers were now phoning him ‘‘at least every week’’ to discuss opportunities, making it clear confidence was returning to the city after years of a flat market.
‘‘The developers have been holding off because they wouldn’t have got the returns they wanted,’’ he said.
‘‘But now that the market has turned, they are going all guns blazing to get their developments out of the ground.’’
Mr Molenaar said many apartments were selling off the plan, with young couples and empty-nesters keen to move into the CBD for convenience and lifestyle reasons.
‘‘It’s the same reasons they want to live in Sydney or Melbourne: proximity to work, transport, low maintenance living for people who don’t want to mow that quarter acre block,’’ he said.
‘‘The younger couples are getting into the market and don’t need big homes, and also there’s the beach – very rarely do you have a CBD that is so close to the water.’’
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