The pavement is scrubbed, seats have been painted and errant tiles are being readjusted as Wollongong City Council prepares for Saturday’s official opening of Crown Street Mall.
On Thursday, only the site of the giant chessboard – which has been rendered considerably less giant during the refurbishment – remained fenced off, with contractors busily making final touches to the area.
The major overhaul – which blew out to cost $22.5 million due to complications with utilities companies – began in early 2013 with the removal of the old ‘‘birdcage’’ structure and stage.
‘‘The city is looking great, much better than what it was and I’ve been here long enough to know that.''
Work stopped briefly over summer last year but the noise, dust and heavy construction started back up in February, creating tough conditions for many retailers over winter.
With most fences finally dismantled late last month, the past few weeks have been a welcome relief for lower Crown Street retailers, but they say more needs to be done to bring back the crowds who were kept away by the work.
‘‘It has still been quieter,’’ South Coast Runners owner Karl Hayes said.
‘‘People have been avoiding the mall for the past two years, they have built up very different patterns to what they used to have so they’re not coming here.’’
Frolic Girls boutique owner Kelly Kreilis shared some of these concerns, but said she had noticed a definite uptick in shopper numbers in recent weeks.
In fact, Ms Kreilis was so convinced the shopping strip would recover she opened a second store – Little Wanderers children’s wear – in the space vacated by Babes Boutique earlier this year.
‘‘It’s great, definitely more foot traffic, but we need to get everyone back into the swing of taking advantage of what we’ve got,’’ she said.
‘‘We’ve got a nice city now – it’s clean and tidy and we need to get people back in using the nice restaurants and shops.’’
To do that, Ms Kreilis and Mr Hayes have banded together to host a special ‘‘relaunch’’ at their shops next Wednesday night.
‘‘We’re going to have a massive night with stylists and flowers and prizes, because we wanted to get back in touch with our regulars who might not have stepped back into town to see that it looks good,’’ Ms Kreilis said.
Lower Crown Street stalwart Alex Filceski, of Alexandar Michaels menswear, also believes the key to success in the coming months is looking forward, rather than back to tough times.
‘‘The city is looking great, much better than what it was and I’ve been here long enough to know that,’’ he said.
The council will no doubt hope to capture this spirit as it celebrates the mall opening on Saturday.
Official proceedings will start at noon, with Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery joining state and federal politicians to mark to occasion.
‘‘Saturday will be a great opportunity for us to come together as a community to mark the completion of one of the biggest projects our city has seen in almost 30 years,’’ Cr Bradbery said.
“We may have reached ‘tools down’ as far as major construction goes, but we’ll keep working to bring great events and experiences to the city centre.’’
The summer party will include DJs, a volleyball court, fashion displays, food and drinks, sales and kids’ activities.