An ambitious new development 30 years in the making and boasting apartments, a cinema, music venue and offices aims to take over an entire block of the Wollongong CBD.
In 1990, WIN TV owner Bruce Gordon bought The Grand Hotel in Keira Street.
Over the intervening years, his company Birketu bought up other properties in that block, bordered by Keira, Crown, Atchison and Burelli streets, getting the final piece - the medical centre - a few weeks ago.
But the planning for what is the $400 million WIN Grand project started years earlier
The block is around 1.3 hectares and the total floor space of the development will be around 56,000 square metres - the Wollongong Central development across the road is 10,000sqm.
Bruce's vision has always been to buy the individual buildings on the site and, piece by piece, put them togetherWIN CEO Andrew Lancaster
The development includes three residential buildings holding 402 apartments; the largest building is a 39-storey tower on the corner of Atchison and Burelli streets.
It will also boast a cinema, exhibition space and music venue on the Keira-Atchison corner, office space, and retail along the Crown Street frontage.
Those options, along with the gym and swimming pool, and the green space throughout, will all be accessible to the public.
With a development application to be lodged with council soon, the aim is to start construction in late 2022 and have the site finished in 2025.
WIN TV CEO Andrew Lancaster said Mr Gordon had had plans to do something with this city block from the time he bought The Grand - which once housed the then 2 Double 0 radio station (now i98fm).
"We will retain The Grand as it such a symbolic part of the city centre and it will be the cornerstone for the entertainment element of the precinct - cinema, exhibition space, live performance venue and the pub," Mr Lancaster said.
"Bruce's vision has always been to buy the individual buildings on the site and, piece by piece, put them together so that we could build something great for Wollongong and its residents.
"Bruce loves this city and has always contributed to it in a variety of ways and this just one investment that will continue the city's growth."
The development director is Steven Turner, who was in charge of the Wollongong Central construction across the road for GPT.
He said it was both exciting and scary to get to play with an entire city block, rather than just a development over a few land lots.
"Rather than just jump in and start designing something, you go right back and look back at urban design principles," Mr Turner said.
"You get to use the full toolkit of what you can do for the city and what the site can do for the city because you have that kind of footprint.
"Western Crown Street has always had the most potential and also been the most challenging for a long period of time - right through to the station.
"So we've tried to do a whole bunch of things at the same time. We're trying to celebrate and give voice to the events, the live performances, the arts, the culture.
"Bruce is trying to really plug some of the gaps in the city, making sure that we're not competing with what's already in the city but we're complementing it."
The land rises and falls across the block, which Mr Turner said made designing something a little tricky - but it also allowed for benefits that would not have come from building on level ground.
"The easiest thing to do in the world is to build something on flat ground," he said.
"We don't have flat ground, we have a topography that changes and is quite challenging. But then when you get the brief right and you see the design team respond then you start to see elements come that, if you were playing with the flat block, you couldn't just design.
"You couldn't design that character and those sort of perspectives and the streetscape."
All those residential apartments will add to the new towers already built elsewhere in the CBD, and Mr Turner said it was plugging into a trend that started more than a decade ago.
That was a desire for people to return to inner-city living after they noticed changes in the CBD.
"Wollongong has got amazing talent and talented people who live right through the suburbs and they started to rediscover the city again," Mr Turner said.
"It became less about wanting to live on a quarter-acre block on some greenfield development. It was people wanting to work and wanting to rediscover what it's like to live where there's that activity and that energy."
A focus on entertainment
Part of the aim of the WIN Grand development is ensuring the city block is still buzzing after the sun goes down.
The development is the brainchild of WIN TV boss Bruce Gordon, and includes a pub, 600-person capacity music venue, cinema and an exhibition space - as well as a number of restaurants.
"All successful major cities stand out because they have an energy that runs 18 hours a day," WIN CEO Andrew Lancaster said.
"To do that you need the business activity during the day extending into a strong entertainment and leisure program at night. You need people living and working in close proximity to shops, business and lifestyle opportunities."
With the project named for The Grand Hotel - the first of the properties Mr Gordon bought - the exterior will be one of two buildings retained.
The other will be the building which now houses Spotlight.
"The facade is quite unique, we will hold on to that," development manager Steven Turner said of The Grand Hotel.
"Technically we don't have to retain it, but we're going to retain it and we want to rebuild it again.
The footprints of the building [will be] identical to what they are today. We're not trying to keep the facade and whack a whole bunch of stuff on behind it. We're rebuilding it largely consistent to where they were originally."
Changes will be made internally to add in the cinema and band venue, but also because the fire regulations and other compliance requirements have changed.
A green focus for WIN Grand
The WIN Grand project has set the aim of being the city's first carbon-neutral precinct.
The certification will relate to the operation of the apartment and commercial components, not their construction.
Development manager Steven Turner said a large part of the shift will come from installing electrical appliances rather than gas.
"This is not uncommon now - projects that are aspiring to hit those sort of carbon metrics are converting to halogen cooking and the like," Mr Turner said.
"What that means is you can shift to electricity, and then by shifting to electricity, that enables you to purchase electricity from sustainable sources."
The carbon-neutral accreditation is something Mr Turner believed could act as a selling point for the apartment complexes.
"We think it's going to resonate with people being able to purchase an apartment or move in and be a tenant of a precinct that has that stamp on it and takes leadership," he said.
"That's an easier shift and I think we'll also attract people that want to buy into that and be part of that process."
Greenery will also form a part of the development, with trees planted through the centre of the development, and vegetation growing on the rooves of some buildings.
"Greenery on the roof doesn't help you achieve carbon-neutral status but it's absolutely the right thing to do as far as the heat environment and the heating of cities," Mr Turner said.
"t's bringing more greenery into the site and cooling those urban environments."
New pathways are steps in the right direction
Despite all the apartments and commercial buildings, it was a footpath that was one of the first design elements in place for the $400 million WIN Grand development.
The downhill slopes of Atchison and Keira streets are well known to locals who have had to hike up them, but development manager Steven Turner said early on they found an easier - and flatter - route through the site.
When surveying the site, they discovered to their amazement, that the diagonally opposite corners of Keira-Crown and Atchison-Burelli were somehow at the same level.
"I remember turning up to the first meeting with council after we just surveyed the entire site and I said 'does anyone realise it's the same level that from this corner to this corner, when it's a10-metre fall on the other diagonal?" development manager Steven Turner said.
No-one could believe it - and Mr Turner saw it as a opportunity to offer a more direct route between Wollongong train station and the mall.
That route will take pedestrians right through the middle of WIN Grand.
"That was the first thing that got stuck on the drawing," Mr Turner said.
"It got drawn in and it never left the project. Then it got made more interesting, because no-one wants to generally walk through a straight line - that might make it the shortest route but it doesn't make it the best route.
"So we worked out how to bring that through the site and make it interesting, taking corners and keeping people engaged through there.
"But you still get that flat walk, which is amazing."
An economic boost for the Wollongong CBD
The planned WIN Grand CBD development is expected to give the city's economy a shot in the arm.
The $400 million development will take up the city block bordered by Keira, Crown, Atchison and Burelli streets.
Subject to council approval, construction is anticipated to take up to three years before the project is finished.
During construction, the developers have estimated a total of 865 direct and indirect jobs will be created.
Once construction is completed, the retail components is likely to inject millions into the regional economy and provide more than 1000 ongoing jobs.
There are expected to be 50 new retailers including cafes, restaurants, bars and high street retail.
While WIN Grand includes 402 residential apartments across three towers, much of the site will be accessible to the public.
As well as additions like a gym, swimming pool and 600-person capacity music venue, almost 40 per cent of the site will be fully accessible public open space.
This includes a pathway through the site, providing a shorter route between the train station and the mall.
Aspects of some buildings on the block will remain in the finished product.
The facade of the Spotlight building will be restored to what it was in the 1950s, while the Grand hotel will be incorporated into the new entertainment space.