Susanne Pini left Wollongong to chase her dream, but the architect didn't expect to return a hometown hero.
That's exactly how the principal architect responsible for designing the new Wollongong Central shopping centre felt last Thursday when 55,000 people flocked to the impressive retail space. More than 150,000 turned up over the weekend.
Mrs Pini, who was born at Port Kembla Hospital and lived in the suburb and Unanderra, said an impressive architectural group from Rice Daubney, teamed with an "amazingly wonderful" client and builder underpinned GPT's $200 million retail centre on the corner of Crown and Keira streets.
She said the design aimed to reflect Wollongong as a city of contrasts.
"We tried to design a building and create a building reflecting the people and the place," Mrs Pini said.
"We looked at the history of the place, looked at the man-made, looked at the steel, looked at ports and then the amazing natural beauty of the area. The idea was taking the man-made and the natural and reflecting that, because in our mind, that is what Wollongong is. It is a city of contrasts and we wanted to reflect that in the design."
Seeing the building "come to life" on October 9 gave her great satisfaction.
"Seeing it with people in it, people enjoying it, people looking out into the street, people sitting in the windows, it is really a dream come true for every architectural practice," Mrs Pini said.
She now looked forward to starting a "conversation" with the rest of the city.
"It [building] is really about the hopes, dreams and aspirations for something much much bigger than what we've started here and we're really humbled to have contributed to this excitement and to this change and transformation and connection to the rest of the city."
Echoing her comments was Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, who said at the official opening that the development placed the city on a world stage.
"It is now a lifestyle city," Councillor Bradbery said.
"In lots of ways we have reinvented ourselves. This is just part of the infrastructure for that new image, new vision, new attitude in our city ... watch this space, there is more to come."
Shoppers were just as excited, many telling the Advertiser they were impressed with the building, new shops and many dining options.
University of Wollongong student Raween Albarouki, who lives in Sydney, said she liked the design and the fact the centre had quite a few good fashion shops.
Mia Maitland from Mount Ousley and Figtree resident Belinda Demertzis said they wanted to check out Coles, Cotton On Kids, Bonds and Target.
"As a young mum these stores are great," Mrs Demertzis said.
Ten stores did not open last Thursday. They are expected to open in the coming weeks, with taco chain Guzman y Gomez confirmed for an October 23 opening and Max Brenner to follow suit on October 24.
In good news for motorists, Keira Street was reopened to traffic on Monday.