RAU Campus turns to commercial development

Posted On Wednesday, 14 February 2001 03:01 Published by
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University's projects aim to circumvent dwindling subsidies from government RAND Afrikaans University (RAU) intends to use the prime property it is sitting on in the trendy Melville area.

University's projects aim to circumvent dwindling subsidies from government RAND Afrikaans University (RAU) intends to use the prime property it is sitting on in the trendy Melville area of Johannesburg to bring in extra revenue.
The university is giving long leases on its unused land on Kingsway Road between Empire Road and Westdene. There is already a McDonald's open for business on RAU land.
Other developments in the works include:
An 18000m² Campus Square shopping centre, which will include a Woolworths and possibly a cinema complex, on the corner of Kingsway and Main roads;
The 5000m² Opera House office development across the road, so named because an opera house was planned for the land before RAU acquired it; and
A sports science institute a joint venture between RAU, Technikon Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town and Morne du Plessis and Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute of SA, based in Cape Town.
This will build on the development along Kingsway Road that began with Nasionale Pers's Media Park building, which went up on land acquired from Johannesburg Country Club.
The RAU developments, which may include residential projects on other land the university owns, are in part a response to decreasing government funding for universities.
'We decided not be a victim of reduced subsidies but to play a proactive role,' says the university's operations registrar, Carl Labuschagne.
The idea for the property model, which is used by universities in the UK, the US and Australia, germinated about five years ago under rector JC van der Walt, who is soon to retire.
A company called Property Management Development and Group Five, which is doing some of the construction work for the developments, were brought in as consultants. It has been a long process, involving getting government and council approval for the plans, rezoning land and holding more than 50 public meetings.
The aim is to bring in longterm income for RAU while minimising the risk, as the development is being done by a number of medium-sized and small companies while the university retains ownership of the land.
By comparison, University of the Witwatersrand, the other big land owner in the area, is acquiring land to expand its student activities, including moving its education departments to Johannesburg College of Education, with which the university recently merged, on Parktown Ridge. Other universities are watching RAU's efforts with interest. The University of Bloemfontein is negotiating with the Free State government to develop a piece of land owned by the university and the province.
The RAU development will be phased over five years in what Labuschagne calls 'manageable pockets' rather than as one large development that might affect the area negatively.
Melville residents are, however, not happy about RAU's plan. Laurraine Lotter, chairperson of Warm, the residents and ratepayers' association for Westdene, Auckland Park, Rossmore, Richmond, Melville and Brixton, says Campus Square is not 'appropriate' for the area.
She says the shopping centre, which will certainly offer competition to the newly opened Boulevard centre on the site of the old Melville swimming pool when it opens in September, is larger than the development which was originally discussed with the association. The body is also displeased with the cinema component, also not part of the original proposal.
The northern metropolitan council says it has received a letter from the association objecting to Campus Square; the next step is a tribunal at which Warm can air its grievances.
Lotter believes this development will increase noise and traffic in the area, and is part of the general encroachment of business rights on the suburb. Melville streets such as on Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street have seen an increase in the number of bars, restaurants and offices, and the concomitant noise and traffic are pushing down property prices.
'RAU has a high degree of responsibility in the area,' says Lotter. 'Whether it's exercising it is another story.'
Independent estate agent Ismail Gattoo, who works in Auckland Park, Brixton and Westdene, is also sceptical about the developments boosting activity in the property market. 'It will bring more people into the area,' says Gattoo, 'but they will not necessarily be residents.'
However, Lorraine Botha of Vered Estates and Dehan Liebenberg of Eskel Jawitz see the developments as a positive force.
Botha says the developments are in pockets, and not a creep of urbanisation as occurred from Hillbrow to Yeoville. They will add to Melville's existing attraction for the bohemian and media sets who are drawn the 'village feel' on Seventh Street, she says, and to the vibrancy of the suburb.
Liebenberg says stalwart brands like McDonald's and Woolworths reassure prospective buyers who are worried about encroachment on Auckland Park of Brixton slum lords.
'Development is always preferable to open spaces, unless they are landscaped,' says Liebenberg. 'They attract vagrants and look unkempt.'


Publisher: Business Day
Source: Business Day

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