Four years after closing down, Illawarra residents have been able to again ride the once shining escalators inside 163-177 Crown Street.
But instead of shopping for clothes, homewares and luxury items, visitors were momentarily following the well-regimented flow of the Illawarra-Shoalhaven Mass Vaccination Centre which occupied the former David Jones building on the corner of Crown and Church streets.
With the mass vaccination centre closing down at the end of next month, the future of the site is uncertain once again.
In a little-publicised sale in 2021, the building quietly changed hands for $22 million, according to online property records.
This occurred at roughly the same time that the Wollongong Central Mall complex changed hands from GPT to Haben Property Fund and Hong Kong-based JY Group for $402 million, in the largest regional shopping centre sale at that time nationally in more than five years.
These transactions and the wider influx of interest in the Wollongong CBD means that now may be the time to think big for what a such a site at the "epicentre of everything" could be, said Business Illawarra's Adam Zarth.
"We really want to see quality in the Wollongong CBD, so if it's going to be commercial office space, we want to see that at the A-grade level because that's what people demand now, and likewise, if it was to become a hotel, we need a five star hotel in Wollongong," he said.
In the meantime, the existing building would do well as a co-working space for rapidly expanding businesses and recent arrivals looking for a place to work remotely, Mr Zarth said.
When the property was listed for sale in 2016, reports at the time suggested that the location would be ripe for redevelopment into apartments, Mr Zarth said with the way the city has developed in the years since, other uses would be more appropriate.
"While housing is much needed across the region, because it's at the heart of the commercial centre of Wollongong we want to see workers in industries, whether it be knowledge, services, technology, or other professional services. That's where they ought to be located," he said.
"They can access all those small businesses, like cafes, and contribute to the vibrancy of the CBD."
Suggestions included a bowling alley and a hotel, but no tenant appeared, besides the NSW government looking for a place to jab thousands of Illawarra residents at the height of the pandemic in 2021.
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