Inner city investment

Posted On Friday, 01 June 2001 03:01 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Gauteng's R1,7bn expected to revitalise city's ailing inner suburbs 
Johannesburg's struggling central business district (CBD) is set to become one of the biggest benefactors of the Gauteng government's commitment to increase fixed investment. 

Trevor ManuelFinance Minister Trevor Manuel's national belt-tightening doctrine has resulted in the Gauteng provincial government achieving a budget surplus for the first time. As a result, the province has budgeted R1,7bn over three years for growth-enhancing infrastructure projects. These are part of Blue IQ, the name of Gauteng's industrial development strategy and the small team that runs it. Some of the projects call for significant public-sector investment in downtown Johannesburg . Areas likely to benefit most are Newtown, Braamfontein and Fordsburg.
Gauteng has committed nearly R400m to the Newtown area and more than R350m to Braamfontein. The province and Johannesburg's metro council hope to attract more money through private-public partnerships on the projects. Already about 2 000 construction jobs have been created and 66 companies have been awarded contracts.
From next month, a performance management system will be in place to allow the Johannesburg Development Agency and Blue IQ to measure economic output on the capital expenditure.


Urban renewal is a tough battle, but US cities are showing it can be won. Like Johannesburg, they experienced a flight of business and capital to the suburbs, followed by poverty, grime and crime.
A byproduct of this migration is the rash of shopping malls popping up in suburbia.
A more serious side-effect has been the collapse of infrastructure. In both SA and the US, companies decided that getting to work was their employees' problem. The result is serious traffic congestion.
Despite this and overpriced office space in the northern areas, it won't be easy for central Johannesburg to recover.
The inner-city renewal strategy is led by Graeme Reid, CEO of the Johannesburg Development Agency. He grudgingly accepts that the Rosebank-Illovo-Sandton axis is, in effect, the CBD. A new identity is sought for the old one.
Over the past few years, US cities like Cincinnati and Chicago have transformed derelict areas into places of interest. Museums and jazz clubs are being built and coffee shops and pavement cafes are replacing crack houses and liquor stores. A growing number of wealthy suburbanites choose to drink their Jameson downtown to live music. This has led to an upswing of economic activity and created jobs.
Johannesburg's metro council has been chipping away for five years at a plan to turn Newtown into a mixed-use place to live, work and play. The inspiration is drawn from New York's Brooklyn Institution Centre on Urban & Metropolitan Policy, whose director says 'successful downtowns are 24-hour cities'.


Ten years ago, Chicago discovered its taste for downtown living after years of decline. The downtown population increased; so did commercial activity, and property prices began to rise again.
One of Reid's primary targets has been to increase Johannesburg's inner-city population. Not the overcrowded flats of Hillbrow and Joubert Park, but a social mix of people prepared to pay for accommodation. Already about 700 families have moved into mixed-income housing on the border of Newtown and Fordsburg, near the Oriental Plaza.
The Johannesburg Housing Corp has permission to build another 600 units on the edge of the Market Theatre precinct. The council has approved 2 200 housing units for the next three years. Monthly salaries of residents will range from R3 500 to R12 000.
The turnaround of Chicago's downtown, due largely to an influx of city dwellers, is leading to a return of big companies as well. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has announced it plans to move its corporate headquarters there.
Based on the experience of another US city, Johannesburg's second focus could be called the Cincinnati Option: to create a leisuretime buzz downtown .
For a start, the city is cleaning up Newtown. Some of the money is being spent to make the area look better. Last month Urban Solutions, an architectural consultancy, won the design for Mary Fitzgerald Square. The R4,5m project will transform the open parking space opposite the Market Theatre and MuseuMAfricA into a public space development. Construction is due to begin in June and end in July. A total of R18,5m has been set aside for upgrading Newtown buildings.


The R60m Nelson Mandela Bridge will link Braamfontein to Newtown (see FM Focus May 18). The council is expected to announce the winning bidder in June, along with the winning bid to build ramps linking the M1 to Carr Street in Newtown. Both projects are aimed at providing easier and safer access to Newtown.
Another council plan, supported by Blue IQ, sees Newtown as a hub for a mixture of formal and informal industries, such as arts and crafts, music, film and multimedia. Blue IQ and the Johannesburg Development Agency are committing R7,5m to build a creative industries node. Reid says if current talks with potential private-sector backers are a true indication, a multimedia, film and music centre will be on site by the beginning of next year.
Blue IQ finance GM Oren Fusch says that as a result of a Far East investment mission to Singapore and Malaysia early this year, a Singapore catering consortium has asked for more details. There have also been inquiries from craft companies.
Shabir Norath, of BoE, which is interested in structuring public-private partnerships, says they will work only if there's profit for the private sector.
This is the critical difference between Blue IQ and national government's capital projects, such as the R1,3bn Alexandra renewal scheme. Blue IQ's spending is aimed at creating sustainable economic activity. Blue IQ identifies four potential growth sectors: technology, transport, high value-added manufacturing and tourism.
The importance of the project to Gauteng is unmistakable; the R1,7bn is 20% of the province's budget. Properly structured and marketed, it could yield investments worth billions more.
Not every part of it has obvious investment potential, however. The R357m Constitution Hill development in Braamfontein will include construction of the new Constitutional Court, redevelopment of historical buildings such as the Old Fort prison, and the building of a museum, cultural archives and libraries. There is an assumption that these developments will attract tourists.


Projects like MetroMall have more immediate attraction. It will be built on the site of the Bree Street taxi rank, within sight of the Reserve Bank. MetroMall will be a multipurpose transport interchange and shopping complex - formal and informal. A planned 1 700 taxi bays and 22 bus bays will service an estimated 150 000 daily commuters who pass through the area. This explains why there is already demand for retail space on site. It will also be one of the few times there's likely to be no protest over the construction of a petrol station.



Last modified on Monday, 19 May 2014 13:07

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