It may be one of the most controversial buildings in the Illawarra, but – after years of protests and even debate on the floor of parliament – the Shellharbour Civic Centre is almost complete.
Due to open in December, the centre – or “hub”, as it was once known – was partially opened to the public for a series of tours on Friday.
The $60 million building – which the council says is scheduled to stick within its budget – is fronted by an expansive plaza, which has been filled with trees and public art.
This includes concrete seating embossed with Aboriginal artworks that represent a meeting place, and a huge brass bowl which will be filled with water to flow into a man-made creek bed for children’s play.
Inside, a huge atrium will house a range of public facilities, including a large, modern library, computer access, a children’s interactive area, city museum and cafe.
Also on the ground floor, there is a 350 seat auditorium designed for public events and the council’s customer service hub.
A high-rise tower at the back of the building, which has views over Lake Illawarra, will provide office space for Shellharbour City Council staff.
Based on its environmental credentials – including an inbuilt weather station which will shut off the air-conditioning when the outdoor temperatures hit optimal levels – civic centre will be given five “Green Stars”.
Acknowledging the building’s notoriety, the council’s general manager Carey McIntyre he hoped the completed space could change any detractor’s minds and give Shellharbour CBD – mostly known for its massive retail mall – a true community space and city centre.
“I think in a sense the building speaks for itself,” he said.
“Anyone visiting the building and surrounds will see that the focus has been on the community and customer, and is about providing what the community needs.”
“This project is a culmination of 30 years of planning for a city centre, and this building is a cornerstone to that – it completes the picture.”
Mayor Marianne Saliba also acknowledged the contentious history of the building, but said even the Sydney Opera House “had its detractors”.
“We’ve delivered an iconic building that our community will have lots of years of use of – our children and grandchildren,” she said.
A number of Cr Saliba’s opponents at the upcoming election were members of the “Stop the hub” groups who helped gather 10,000 signatures necessary to hold a debate over the project in parliament.