$80m shopping complex opens

THOUSANDS of shoppers flowed through the new $80m Mount Gambier Marketplace yesterday, which was described during the official opening as the premier Woolworths-owned shopping centre in regional Australia.

Hundreds of eager shoppers began spilling into the centre at 9am and by 11am the 1100-space carpark was full and a bank of cars on Penola Road was stretched to Gadens Village on the city's northern gateway.

Despite a number of specialty shop spaces being vacant in the mall, shoppers were eager to catch a glance of the most modern Big W store in Australia, Masters and the new-look supermarket.

The majority of the specialty stores also opened their doors yesterday for the opening day rush.

Speaking at the official opening, Woolworths national director of property Ralph Kemmler said the Mount Gambier shopping centre was unequalled in regional Australia.

"It is the best one in regional Australia," said Mr Kemmler, who explained the shopping centre was built on state-of-the-art designs.

Explaining the retail environment was constantly changing, he said the shopping centre would be a "positive" addition to Mount Gambier.

Mr Kemmler said the centre would entice more customers into Mount Gambier and should not have a negative impact on the vibrancy of the city's inner district.

"Mount Gambier has a really strong shopping strip," Mr Kemmler told The Border Watch.

Describing the new shopping complex as "flawless", he said the retail facility was "outstanding".

Meanwhile, Independent Member for Mount Gambier Don Pegler said it was amazing to see the new shopping centre come to fruition so quickly.

"A little more than 12 months ago we would had been standing here in little more than a paddock," Mr Pegler told the crowd.

"It is great to see a company like Woolworths have so much faith in the economy of our city."

While conceding the shopping centre would alter the retail landscape in Mount Gambier, he said he was confident the centre would entice more shoppers into the city.

"I only see good things for our city," Mr Pegler said.

Mount Gambier Mayor Steve Perryman - who officially opened the centre - said he was pleased to see the employment opportunities flowing from the new development.

He said the centre should increase the retail profile of the city and cement it as a "premier shopping destination".

"It couldn't come at a better time with the challenges we have been facing with the economic downturn across the globe," Mr Perryman said.

"I would like to thank Woolworths for its commitment to Mount Gambier."

Mr Perryman also said it was an honour Mount Gambier was chosen as the first site in Australia to house a Big W, Masters and Woolworths supermarket at the same location.

"The future of Mount Gambier relies on investment from companies such as Woolworths," he said.

Given the $80m Woolworths commitment to the centre, yesterday's opening saw a cluster of Woolworths executives fly into the Blue Lake city from across Australia.

Masters Home Improvement chief executive officer Don Stallings yesterday spoke positively about the future of the store in front of a sea of blue-vested employees.

Explaining Mount Gambier was home to the 20th Masters store in Australia, Mr Stallings said another 17 were under construction and a further 50 in the pipeline.

"Don't you just love competition," the Masters executive said.

Stating it took "a lot of money to put these things up", Mr Stallings described the Mount Gambier community as welcoming.

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