Work on the multi-million dollar makeover of the former Spotlight building in Nowra is underway.
The team from Iconic Property Holdings, part of the Iconic Group, officially took control of the building on July 31 and have taken no time in getting cracking on the restoration of the historic Nowra CBD structure.
Already work has started on top-level, former residence and later office area, along with work underway on the front section of the Berry Street entrance level.
Maurice Bertapelle and his partners said it was "extremely exciting to be underway".
Along the way they have already found some gems - and yes that includes the entrance to the "famed" tunnel to Junction Street, we've all heard so much about over the years.
Although at this stage you're unable to get into the actual tunnel, a large steel door blocking the way has been found and we'll take you inside that area under the Berry Street floor level.
Incredibly the trapdoor entrance was hidden under a non-descript set of tiles on the floor.
"It was pretty cool to finally find that," Mr Bertapelle said.
"We've all heard so much about the tunnel - how the original owners installed it to join up with another of their stores over in Junction Street.
"Unfortunately at this stage it's locked.
"I'd love to see it opened and actually see what is down there.
"My partner's not so keen.
"But it's a great mystery - it's all pretty magical.
"It will be like looking into the past. Literally we will be opening up a door into the past.
"I really want to see what's in there.
"But we haven't found a key - perhaps we need to find a local safecracker!"
More on other hidden gems later, but back to the restoration work.
Mr Bertapelle says the makeover will be a 12-month program.
"We're in and we've started," he said.
"Work has already progressed well."
He said already major internal decontamination work had happened - that included the removal of asbestos, particularly from the ceiling of the former upstairs residence which has all been removed, along with any lead-based paint.
"We wanted to start with a completely clean slate and ensure everything is safe for our workers," Mr Bertapelle said.
"Upstairs is already a lot better than what we took over."
A full restoration is planned in the six-plus room upstairs' area to establish stunning new office space, but also in keeping with and highlighting many of its heritage features.
Heritage features such as skirting boards and architraves that remain will be kept in place, while it is planned to replace non-conforming items with matching replicas with the exact same profiles being made.
The wooden floorboards will also be repolished and brought back to life.
Where possible the original wall plastering will be preserved, but in places where it can't, it will be re-sheeted.
The upstairs windows are all being refurbished, with carpenters discovering during demolition work, how windows facing Berry Street replaced doorways that once led on to the verandah (now only on Emporium Lane) but used to wrap right around the front of the building.
Massive work is being undertaken on the roof area and box guttering to ensure the buildings' long history of issues with water leakage during heavy rain is being addressed, while demolition upstairs also discovered where the building's resident pigeons had been gaining access.
Workers have recovered more than a dozen pigeons, including a number of babies (squeakers) and spent more than an hour on the phone trying to find homes to relocate them.
A woman in Bomaderry has agreed to take the adult birds and young chicks.
On the Berry Street ground level floor, internal demolition work has already seen what was formally the Spartees area of Spotlight gutted, with plaster walls being removed and plans in place to fill other doorways and make a separate office area.
The original ornate wooden door opening will be retained and will become another feature of the redevelopment.
Once the current streetscaping work on Berry Street by Shoalhaven City Council is complete, work will begin on the building's facade.
Of course, there are plans to completely redo the electrical wiring throughout the building including a huge amount of data network connections, something so important in today's world.
New air conditioning systems will be installed, as will two lifts, one which will provide access from Emporium Lane to the top level and another from the lower floor to the Berry Street level.
Another of the gems found in the building is under the historic and ornate staircase - the signatures of former employees who were working at the building when Grace Bros officially closed in 2003 are also intact.
Shelving under the stairs has been removed to show all the signatures, and messages left.
There are some great ones including Les Bryant who worked at the building through many of its reincarnations for 35 years from 1968 to 2003.
Some wag even managed to have Claude, the building's resident ghost, and his dates 1893-2006, included.
Or was that Claude himself?
It is planned that this area will be preserved and sealed, with the workers who complete the current building restoration also adding their signatures on an adjoining wall and the area will be left as a "time capsule".
The staircase, of course, will remain and will become a focal point to what is planned to be a grand entry area leading to the stairs complete with five-metre ceilings.
On the ground floor facing Stewart Place various cleaning works have been carried out with plans to complete its fit-out as office space.
Outside the building there will also be changes, with a lot of external pipework being removed and incorporated inside, the large air conditioning units overlooking Stewart Place will be removed as will units along Emporium Lane.
Read more: Of course, yes there is a ghost story
There are a number of changes planned for the rear extension (c 1968) including numerous window changes and updating of the facade.
The eventual plans are to provide high-end office space, the likes of something "Nowra has never seen before," Mr Bertapelle 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."
"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."
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.
And as for the cost of the redevelopment?
"How long is a piece of string," he joked.
And there has already been interest in the taking up office space, with one major company requesting space before work had even been started.
"It's great to see there is interest in the property already and people haven't even seen what we're going to produce," Mr Bertapelle said.
Any inquires about securing office space in the new complex can be directed to Integrity Real Estate in Nowra.