Commercial initiatives build on potential.

Posted On Tuesday, 28 January 2003 10:01 Published by
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EThekwini municipality and Kwazulu-Natal provincial officials have shrugged off the paralysis which seemed to grip decision-making in the mid-1990s.

EThekwini municipality and Kwazulu-Natal provincial officials have shrugged off the paralysis which seemed to grip decision-making in the mid-1990s.

Last year the city attracted significant investment, and this year and the next more projects are expected to come on stream, as Durban invests in infrastructure, meets basic needs and attracts new industries.

This time last year there was still some uncertainty over the R1.5 billion Suncoast Casino. The first phase opened in December, attracting half a million visitors.

Likewise, the city's vision of a golden tourism triangle, including the new casino and the International Convention Centre (ICC) will now be complemented with the uShaka Island marine park, which is due to open in 2004.

Urban renewal in eThekwini unicity, which extends from Umkomaas in the south to Tongaat in the north and inland to Cato Ridge, is a combination of private sector investment and government initiatives. The result has been an emphasis on infrastructure which will retain and attract industrial and commercial activity.

After Gauteng, Durban is the second-largest industrial hub in South Africa. Like other major cities, it has faced migration by business from the central business district (CBD) to outlying office developments and has had to deal with increased unemployment.

Durban also has a significant pollution problem in the south industrial basin, which is home to oil refineries and other heavy industry. The city faces another challenge: scores of young graduates leaving the city for jobs in Gauteng and overseas.

Mike Sutcliffe, the eThekwini city manager, says there are five areas in the unicity with potential for urban regeneration. These are Cato Manor; the south industrial basin; the inner city; Inanda, Ntuzuma and Kwamashu and a fifth business node, including rural areas around Umhlanga, Pinetown and Hillcrest.

Over the past five years R360 million drawn from the European Union, the city council and the national government has been spent to develop infrastructure and residential areas in Cato Manor, with a focus on developing tourism and small-scale industry.

The infrastructure is now largely in place. In south Durban the biggest challenge is improving the environment. The city and national government have developed a multipoint plan to improve air and water quality. 'Once we have developed a yardstick to measure emissions we will reduce them over time,' Sutcliffe says.

The Durban harbour is South Africa's busiest port; it moves 30 million tons of cargo annually with a value of more than R100 billion. Another initiative is to improve access to the port. As an example, the city built a bridge and private road for Toyota directly from its plant to the railway line which takes export vehicles to the port's car terminal.

In addition, a bridge, allowing container trucks easier port access, will soon be built.

In the inner city an initiative called iTrump has improved cleanliness and security as well as enhanced facilities for commercial and leisure activities.

Richard Dobson, the manager of iTrump, says: 'We have strongly detected that negative perceptions of the CBD have bottomed out...

'There is certainly no longer the heavy haemorrhaging we saw three or four years ago to outlying office developments. This is also partly to do with a slowdown in new buildings at Umhlanga Ridge and La Lucia Ridge.

Professional firms which have elected to remain in the CBD are now taking a more active interest in the area.'

Grindrod last year bought its third building in the city.

According the SA Property Owners' Association, in the quarter to December the total available lettable space in the Durban CBD stood at 21.4 percent compared with 20.7 percent in the previous three months - suggesting the city still faces a challenge in retaining tenants.

Still, this is an improvement compared to a year ago, when vacancies stood at 24 percent. Of the lettable space in Berea, 10.2 percent is available, compared with 5.1 percent in Westville and 6.8 percent in Umhlanga Ridge and La Lucia Ridge.

A major asset for the unicity is the close proximity to the harbour and to industries in south Durban, meaning that many associated businesses have elected to stay in town.

Dobson anticipates that the city's affordability will make it more competitive and city tenants will start to contribute to upgrades.

This is already happening, to some extent, with the development of urban improvement precincts (UIPs) in the CBD. Building on the success of UIPs in 2001, last year South Beach, with the support of Southern Sun, launched its own UIP.

The iTrump project, which has an annual budget of between R12 million to R14 million, has focused on seemingly low-profile interventions which can have significant benefits. At the entrance to the yacht mole upgrades include new paving, parking spaces for coaches, traffic circles and better street lighting.

Future plans are to negotiate with port authorities to develop this area for commercial yachting activity.

In Albert Park, a residential area in the CBD, the city council has spent R1 million upgrading the park.

iTrump has also invested about R37 million in Warwick Junction, which provides space for 7 000 traders and attracts 400 000 people each day.

Sutcliffe says priorities for the CBD are to extend the UIPs, expand the ICC and finalise the city's tourism hub.

Progress has already been made on bolstering the city's tourism potential with the opening of the Suncoast Casino, and work has already begun on uShaka Island. A more modest development is the R25 million Wilson's Wharf, a harbour development with a combination of restaurants and shops.

The most complex project for the city council is Ink, which include the areas of Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu.

'It is the largest residential area in Durban but probably has the least number of jobs' Sutcliffe says. 'How do you bring in retail activity and other businesses and ensure the safety of residents?'

The Riverhorse Valley Business Estate, close to Inanda and KwaMashu, is expected to create 3 500 construction jobs and after completion 13 500 permanent jobs will be created.

The business estate will be developed as 15 separate, mixed-use business parks, residential parks and two direct-access service stations.

The successful office developments of Umhlanga Ridge and La Lucia Ridge north of Durban have lured businesses out of the CBD. But they also ensured that firms such as Unilever have retained operations in Durban.

The city has a distinctly African feel. Combining tourist activities, manufacturing and South Africa's busiest port, it has enormous potential.

There is a feeling that Durban is turning the corner.

  • This is the first in a four-part series on Urban Renewal, looking at Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Look out for part two tomorrow

    Durban Fact Box

    Population: 3 million

    Area of unicity: 2 291km2

    Average income: R22 342.96

    Unemployment: 19.75 percent Contribution to GDP in 2000: 7.77 percent

    Main industries: manufacturing, commercial services, ports

    Areas targeted: inner city; south industrial basin; Cato Manor; Inanda, Ntzimba and KwaMashu

    Main agencies responsible for urban renewal: city council's iTrump initiative, economic development department, Cato Manor Development Agency

  • Publisher: Business Report
    Source: Business Report

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