When Maurice Bertapelle, one of the men behind the proposed Spotlight building redevelopment in the Nowra CBD, walked inside the historic structure, he fell in love instantly.
"I just looked at it and said 'Wow - we can do something with this'," he said.
"As much as it is dog-ugly it has really good bones. Straight away I could envisage what we could do there."
He hopes to re-establish the building to its former glory, maintaining its many heritage links.
Maurice and the team from Iconic Property Holdings, part of the Iconic Group, a trust operated by two families, will project manage and undertake the restoration work of the property.
The application is to change the building's use from retail to commercial/office space and include a small cafe, with all three levels of the historic building to be utilised.
"I just saw the potential," he said.
"It knocked my socks off. It has good bones.
"I can picture things - we have the colour schemes sorted, I already know how this is going to look. We've looked at the nearby Postman's Tavern's colour schemes, looked at the beautiful Roxy building.
"It's gonna look fantastic."
Demolishing the building was not an option - we didn't want to have a fight about knocking the building down - the general consensus was the building has a lot of sentimental value to the Nowra people - across generations. As soon as you talk to someone in the town everyone has got memories of this building. It just seemed a shame to bust it up.Maurice Bertapelle
He said demolishing the historic building was "not an option".
"From our point of view we didn't want to have a fight about knocking the building down - the general consensus was the building has a lot of sentimental value to the Nowra people - across generations," he said.
"As soon as you talk to someone in the town everyone has got memories of this building. It just seemed a shame to bust it up."
The plans are to provide high-end office space.
"We believe there is a need for such a development in Nowra and we are aiming to take things to a whole new level," he said.
We believe there is a need for such a development in Nowra and we are aiming to take things to a whole new level. We are going to do something Nowra has never seen before.Maurice Bertapelle
"At the end of the day this is not just going to be a normal office - we are aiming for a regional A-grade standard.
"We are going to do something Nowra has never seen before.
"The entry off Berry Street is going to look like a hotel lobby, with high ceilings and high-end finishes, with the beautiful wooden staircase in the middle of the building, between the ground and lower ground floor, to become a focal point."
There will be a small cafe on the ground floor, and offices on both sides of the stairs and the lower ground floor level which opens onto Stewart Place.
He said the plan includes the capability for large office spaces on both the ground and lower ground floors, or to be broken up into smaller individual spaces.
"There are lots of options available and we will be guided by the feedback we receive for what is wanted or required," Mr Bertapelle said.
"We want to provide something we believe can cater for everyone and that the town needs."
Part of the original building (where Spotlight's Sparties section used to be) will also be cordoned off and made into its own stand alone office space, as will the upstairs residence.
"Upstairs will include many heritage finishes, we want to highlight that and bring some nostalgia back to the town," he said.
Two lifts and new toilet facilities, both on the ground and lower ground floors, will be part of the redevelopment.
There is just so much potential here - not only in this building but also the town. We have faith in Nowra.Maurice Bertapelle
"There is just so much potential here - not only in this building but also the town," Mr Bertapelle said.
He said the upgrades would also embrace the "green factor" with a full 100 kilowatt solar system to be installed on the roof, along with a replacement and major upgrade to the air conditioning system.
"We have been developing properties for a number of years and always incorporate the green factor into our projects," he said.
"The air con will be far more efficient and the solar system will more than offset power and air con and power the common areas.
"The air con will actually have booster fans with the capacity to put in hepa filters if anything like this pandemic ever happens again.
"They are what are used on aircraft and in operating theatres to keep the air pure.
"We are undertaking a full environmental check on the building and we will be using environmentally friendly paints and flooring throughout."
Mr Bertapelle said there were many options for what might be housed in the office spaces.
"There really are countless possibilities," he said.
"Two big offices per floor or they could be split up into smaller spaces, we will be guided by the feedback we receive.
"We are investigating the medical side of things and will be putting things in place like transformers etc to be able to power MRIs, x-ray machines etc - we are planning for the future.
We are fair dinkum about this.If we can get the DA out quickly we could start as soon as August and if that happens we aim to finish by mid next year. And we want to use local contractors.Maurice Bertapelle
"We envisage when it's finished between 200 and 300 people could work out of the building."
Mr Bertapelle admitted this project is a little different from what they normally do but they could just see the potential.
And he's eager to get started - the development application for the $1.5 million upgrade is currently before Shoalhaven City Council.
"We are fair dinkum about this," he said.
"If we can get the DA out quickly we could start as soon as August and if that happens we aim to finish by mid next year."
And good news for the local contracting industry, Mr Bertapelle is keen to use local firms.
Integrity Real Estate director Peter Russell, who sold the property, said the proposal was exciting, especially for the Nowra CBD.
"We haven't really seen any substantial development or investment in the CBD, except for a couple of 1980s-styled commercial buildings with clocks on the front or the 30-odd residential units proposed for Graham Street for many years," he said.
We haven't really seen any substantial development or investment in the Nowra CBD for many years.Integrity Real Estate director Peter Russell
"We've seen South Nowra boom, Bomaderry's going ahead with the new Woolworths but we haven't seen anyone put their money genuinely into the Nowra CBD for a lot of years.
"Lots of regional areas are struggling, especially in the current pandemic - retailing will have a part to play, especially down here with our older generation, but it's health services, medical related things, serviced offices - giving people the ability to work.
"We've seen in the last two months the amount of people inquiring to relocate here, out west and the North Coast, away from Sydney. If anything from this pandemic people now know they can work anywhere remotely.
"There are some major players in the marketplaces looking at diversifying their Sydney holdings - getting away from the big rents and to come somewhere like the South Coast which is getting more accessible.
"This development has the ability of a new compliant, five-star rated building, in keeping with an old school tradition of the heritage established by the building in the centre of town and that is something we have badly needed for a number of years.
"Now more than ever.
It's new, amazing, it's exciting and it's going to set the standard for the Nowra CBD for years to come.Integrity Real Estate director Peter Russell
"Image 200 to 300 people working in a building like this? They have to eat, they're going to shop here, use the facilities in the CBD.
"If we can get those people here in the CBD, the area will come alive in a similar way Wollongong has with a lot of people residential living in the heart of Wollongong.
"That's what we need here and have needed for a lot of years.
"When we brought Maurice in here his eyes were like dinner plates.
"This was a bit left field compared to what they have done in Wollongong in the past, but this is exciting.
"It's new, amazing, it's exciting and it's going to set the standard for the CBD for years to come.
"A good example for other regional centres of what can actually be done."
The refurbishment will start initially with the Berry Street facade and then work its way through the building, with Mr Bertapelle saying many of those features would also be included and blended into the facade off Emporium Lane.
"We'll be getting rid of that massive air conditioning unit out the back, that's for sure. It's not in keeping with the building," he said.
And this work could well just be stage one of the project with plans also to develop the rear car parking area and surrounding land.
"We've got bigger plans. We'll want to do something else," Mr Bertapelle said.
"This is step one - we are not coming in and running. I think Nowra has a brilliant future - I love the area. Just visually the whole Shoalhaven is beautiful. It's one of the most beautiful geographic areas in all of Australia.
"It's a really exciting project - sure it's a bit of a money pit and it's different from what we usually do but we feel confident in Nowra."
As for what any future development might be?
"We're going to study and see what Nowra needs, we're not going to build a white elephant or put in a DA for the sake of putting in a DA. We want to take our time, take on advice and submit a DA that will only add to Nowra's future," he said.
"It would be easy just to build four levels of apartments, but would it work?"
Mr Russell said he has already gained considerable interest from prospective tenants, but anyone who might be interested in office space can contact him at Integrity Real Estate.