Joburg CBD commercial property revival under way

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Looking out over Johannesburg from Braamfontein. Nelson Mandela bridge over the train station. CBD in the background Looking out over Johannesburg from Braamfontein. Nelson Mandela bridge over the train station. CBD in the background

The Johannesburg central business district is showing a strong revival, with several companies and professionals moving back there from the suburbs.

The Johannesburg city centre could see seven new rejuvenation projects should Urban Genesis’s negotiations be successful.

Such projects felt the backlash of the 2008 meltdown as both government and the private sectors tightened their belts but efforts are now back to refurbish the Johannesburg city centre in the form of City Improvement Districts (CIDs). The approach is a holistic one whereby the private and public sectors come together in joint ventures to rejuvenate demarcated areas in the central business district.

CEO of Urban Genesis, Shrivaar Singh, says recent developments have seen retailers like Ackermans and other chain stores returning to the city. What is key is management and the strict enforcement of formal services like cleaning and maintenance, security, marketing and promotions. This is in addition to services provided by the local authority.

A tour of the Main Street Mall and the Newtown Improvement District has revealed a stark contrast between nodes being formally managed and those where only basic services are provided. What is also taking shape is the mixed use development, incorporating hawkers and retail by day while residents occupy space in former office high rises converted into residential units. Singh says around 8 000 families have made the inner city their home over the past five or so years. The revamping of the mall area cost around R100m, and included the costly process of redoing the roads in the vicinity.

This relocation brought with it the need for recreational facilities, prompting the renovation and greening of the former derelict and crime ridden Bokkie Park. After a year-long effort involving the Johannesburg city council and the private sector, notably mining entities, the square has been renamed Oppenheimer Park and comprises luscious gardens, a mini auditorium for performers, cement benches in strategic places, often in the shade and more importantly, an extremely popular basketball court. It is a perfect lunchtime retreat for city workers, but also for children, or anyone else really to enjoy the tranquillity of a safe and clean environment. Unobtrusive security guards watch over the park 24 hours a day even when it is locked between 6pm and 6am daily.

Adjacent to the park, informal traders have been allocated space where they can ply their wares under newly-erected shelters, and it all seems to work. So-called “block leaders” have been allocated portions which they manage, ensuring a clean and safe flea market experience. The difference between the formally managed areas, run by the CIDs and the local authority as opposed to the unregulated trade in parts of Jeppe, Bree and other streets is astounding. The latter are filthy, unhygienic and generally unsafe.

The CIDS have been around for about 12 years and if developments in parts of the CBD are anything to go by, they could be a viable option for landlords to protect and enhance their investments. The Urban Genesis website says “… managed environments … are a proven tool in the fight against urban deterioration and decay,” which help to offer landowners a better return on their investment.



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