Want to see what a more than $20 million food court looks like?
Take a ride down the escalators at the Canberra Centre.
For six months the previous lower level food court has been enclosed in black hoardings, as the multi-million transformation was underway.
And just like an episode of The Block, the renovations went down to the wire with even senior management staff picking up the vacuum cleaner or polishing cloth to clean up before the big reveal to the public on Thursday morning.
The revamped food court, designed by Cox Architecture, has 10 new food outlets including Canberra's first Hanaichi store offering Japanese food, Mad Mex with its Mexican cuisine and Hokka Hokka selling Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai-style fare. The precinct also has three new retailers - Priceline, Dymocks and Flight Centre.
There is free Wi-Fi connectivity, an increase in seating capacity from 470 to 860 and a move towards a more upmarket ambience with faux marble tabletops, subdued lighting, a vertical garden and seating arranged in "pods", with cork walls to absorb noise. The ceiling has been decorated with hand-made lights and wooden pieces, also designed for their calming effect on the acoustics. There are new toilets and a new parents' room.
There are still the staples of the food court including Ali Baba, McDonalds and Subway.
Sumo Salad manager Tony Favelle has had his business in the food court for four years, able to appreciate the before-and-after transformation. And he has lived and breathed every minute of the rebuild, counting down to Thursday's opening.
"We've been planning for a really big day. I've had a three-hour sleep overnight. We did an 18-hour day yesterday and we were back at five this morning," he said.
"I went to bed after midnight and then I dreamt of Sumo Salad."
Tradies Anthony Billerwell, Alex Plabian Stephen Rowe were having smoko in the food court as they came to the end of what was a three-month job for them, working until four this morning to finish the refurbishment.
"It's outstanding," Mr Billerwell. "There's still a few little finishing touches which not many people will notice. But it's there. We got it across the line. It's good to see it's all clean and clear now. Twenty-four hours ago you would not have thought it would be ready."
Husband and wife team Adam and Jade Irvine have opened the ACT's second Mad Mex store, after the first in Westfield Belconnen.
"We're so excited," Mr Irvine said. "It's been a lot of work but it's been worth it."
The couple will be employing 15 to 20 staff, putting them through their paces during the renovation.
"It was interesting trying to train people in the dust. There was a lot of dust," Mrs Irvine said.
Hanaichi manager Eri Takahaski said the store in Canberra followed outlets in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
"It's a big challenge but we're hoping it all goes well," she said.
Jo Bawden, of Melbourne, who works for G-Star Raw, which has an outlet in the Canberra Centre, caught a moment in the food court with her computer and a coffee.
"It's beautiful," she said. "I love the vertical garden."
Jocelyn Katavic, of Forde, was enjoying a bite to eat with her five-year-old daughter Natalija.
"It's really good, I like it," she said. "It reminds us of Sydney a bit. I really like the extra seating rather than having everyone crowded together. It's a bit more modernised."
And Vic Smith, 67, of Braddon was happily tucking into his meal, from one of the new outlets, Pure and Natural.
"It's looking really good," he said.
Will he be back?
"I think so."
And just to encourage a few more punters, the Canberra Centre is giving away 5000 $10 lunch vouchers, with staff wandering through the precinct to distribute them to shoppers.
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